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UK retail sales plunge at record rate as lockdown hits 

UK retail sales fell a record 5.1% in March as many stores shut up shop in the face of the coronavirus lockdown.  The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the steepest sales fall since it started collecting the data in 1996.  Food and online shopping rose, and alcohol sales jumped by 31%. But clothes sales tumbled by 34%.

Online shopping as a proportion of all retail reached a record high of 22%, the ONS said.  The data comes amid dire estimates for the performance of the UK economy amid the lockdown.

On Friday (24/4), one of the Bank of England’s top policymakers warned that the UK faces its worst economic shock in several hundred years. Jan Vlieghe, a member of the BoE’s interest-rate setting committee, said that “early indicators” suggest the UK was “experiencing an economic contraction that is faster and deeper than anything we have seen in the past century, or possibly several centuries”.

He did, though, say there was “in principle” a good chance that the UK would return to its “pre-virus trajectory once the pandemic is over”.  For industries like retail, customer behaviour may never be the same.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at accountants PwC said, “We don’t expect the pattern of post-lockdown spending to be exactly the same as before, with our latest survey indicating that consumers intend to reward more responsible retailers.”                                           (Source:  drawn from BBC news online 24/4)