Sales have continued to increase for the fifth consecutive month in Britain as the sector braces for Christmas.
The Office for National Statistic has said British retail sales volumes rose by 1.5% between August and September, fuelled by non-food items. Spending on groceries is high, while fuel is still down, reflecting continued home-working trends and less leisure travel. Fuel volume sales were down -8.6% compared to February.
Sales are now 5.5% higher than pre-pandemic levels seen in February.
The three months to September saw the biggest quarterly increase on record, as retail sales volumes increased by 17.4% when compared with the previous three months. The proportion of online sales was at 27.5%, compared with 20.1% reported in February.
“There’s no doubting that UK consumers have been doing their bit to boost the economy, following a quarter of record retail sales growth,” said Lynda Petherick, head of retail at Accenture UKI. “There’s little time for retailers to gather breath, though, and they will already be wondering – or perhaps dreading – what lies ahead in Q4. This should be a time for excitement as the crucial ‘golden quarter’ for retail is now underway. However, with lockdown measures across the UK tightening by the day, retailers are braced for a difficult and unconventional end to the year.”
At 6pm tonight Wales will enter a 17-day ‘Firebreak’ lockdown, while Ireland entered a 6-week lockdown at 6pm on Wednesday. All non-essential retailers in those regions will be forced to temporarily shutter during the lockdowns, while essential retailers such as supermarkets will be allowed to trade throughout. However, the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has told supermarkets that they will only be allowed to open the parts of the business that sell ‘essential goods’. Retailers say they have not been given a definition of what was essential.
While the rules will obviously allow for items such as food, drink and medicines, it’s unclear whether toys, games, clothing and other products will be deemed ‘inessential’ and therefore be unavailable for purchase in those retailer allowed to remain open. This would strike a blow to suppliers and retailers alike, just as trade is picking up.
Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said they wanted the Welsh government to abandon the essential items rules. “Compelling retailers to stop selling certain items, without them being told clearly what is and what isn’t permitted to be sold, is ill-conceived and short-sighted,” she said.
But Plaid Cymru’s Helen Mary Jones said “smaller businesses should not be put at an unfair disadvantage during the firebreak lockdown”. The First Minister’s announcement was made in response to concerns that smaller, independent specialist retailers forced to close during the lockdown would be left at a disadvantage if similar products to the ones they sell were still available elsewhere.
Business leaders say companies in Wales have been given just hours to finalise plans for the firebreak lockdown, which ends at midnight on 9th November.
To read Toy World’s exclusive story on how the toy trade has reacted to the lockdowns, click here.