May 7, 2021
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Fashion euphoria strikes in April as UK store and online sales rocket - BDO

May 7, 2021

Fashion’s Back! After a year on the danger list, UK fashion, together with the lifestyle sector, bounced back impressively to produce record sales after non-essential retail ended its enforced lockdown on 12 April.

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And any question mark over whether online sales would suffer as a consequence proved unfounded as consumers’ renewed confidence and enthusiasm to shop, underpinned by the success of vaccination rollouts, was spread across both channels.

New figures from business advisory firm BDO's High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) showed total UK like-for-like sales, both in-store and online, increased sixfold in April. However, we have to remember this performance is up against a weak base of -29.6% for the equivalent month last year. And England and Wales retail provided the bulk of the business with Scotland and Northern Ireland still under lockdown last month.

While BDO was at pains to note the weak comparisons and that for some retailers, closed stores in the first part of April meant negligible sales, it will come as a relief that the desire to shop for fashion wasn’t at all diminished.

Fashion total like-for-like sales surged by 84.2% last month, though from a base of -31.4% for April last year. 

The sector remained strong throughout the period with April marking the second consecutive month of positive like-for-like sales as clothing sprang back to life after shoppers invested in their post-lockdown wardrobes. 

Lifestyle also delivered an impressive comeback with total like-for-like sales soaring 64.3% in April but, again, from a base of -40.1% for the equivalent month last year. The result marks the second straight month of positive like-for-like sales for total lifestyle and the first time since October 2020 that every week in the month recorded positive results. 

Non-store like-for-like sales grew by an impressive 28.2% in April from a base of +109.6% last year, “a remarkable result”, noted BDO, given last year’s record increase in online spending during the first nationwide lockdown. 

With online sales continuing to hold up even after stores have reopened, the result suggests both a rebound in consumer confidence and discretionary spending, but also that shifts in consumer behaviour towards greater online shopping are ‘sticking’, it said.  

Sophie Michael, head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “April’s results reflect a timely shift in the consumer mindset, with pent-up demand and renewed confidence providing a euphoric reopening for the high street. 

However, she added: “We don’t know if this euphoria will last and if sustained confidence around personal finances will continue to prop up spending or fade as restrictions ease and ‘normality’ resumes. 

“The figures also illustrate a clear shift in consumer behaviour with online sales holding up strongly even as shops reopened. Some retailers may well have experienced significantly higher online figures than in-store, despite opening their physical stores. This demonstrates the importance of continuing to focus across all channels and ensuring that they are viewed as one when engaging with the customer". 

Michael concluded: “Obviously, there is still a long road ahead, but retailers will be crossing their fingers that these positive signs translate into a lasting recovery driven by confidence and discretionary spend. Many will also be hoping that the easing of restrictions on 21 June will unleash a further wave of consumer spending”.

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