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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Newell

COVID-19 - Impact on Retail

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

According to a report produced by the British Retail Consortium*, 73% of non-food retailers reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted their ability to trade “a great deal”.

While most food stores remained open, 80% of non-food stores had to close and 31% of online non-food retailers were not able to operate at capacity.

Half of the non-food workforce was furloughed in comparison to no furloughs in the food sector.

80% of food retailers and 36% of non-food retailers hold 6 months’ of cash reserves. For the industry as a whole, 57% of retailers hold 4 months’ or less of cash reserves.

It appears that the Government’s relief schemes proved more helpful for food retailers compared to non-food retailers and were more helpful for larger retailers than smaller ones. (Smaller retailers are defined in the survey as having less than 10,000 employees). Of the ‘smaller retailers’ surveyed, only 13% responded that the relief schemes helped them “a great deal” to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The BRC also tracks monthly sales trends and the impact of the pandemic can be clearly seen in the results for March and April 2020;

March 2020

Total retail sales were down 4.3% and like-for-like sales were down 3.5% compared to March 2019. Sales experienced a historic drop with the COVID-19 prevention measures changing the consumer landscape significantly. Total sales were down 4.3% but there was a sharp divide between food/non-food and physical/online sales. While food and essentials had a surge at the start of March, it dropped into negative growth after lock-down and the introduction of social distancing in stores. Staying at home resulted in a surge in sales of food & drink, computer equipment, board games, fitness equipment and toys. And of course health related goods were up too

April 2020 Total retail sales were down 19.1% and like-for-like sales were up 5.7% compared to April 2019. This decline is the worst ever recorded since the BRC's sales monitor began in January 1995. The total sales fall of 19.1% is staggering and with so few physical stores open for business it made like-for-like comparisons difficult to establish.

Even food sales were disappointing with the virus preventing large family gatherings over Easter. The decline was particularly steep for many non-food categories such as clothing, footwear and large household items. The proportion of online sales rose sharply with products such as games consoles, bicycles, office equipment and haberdashery having strong growth.


*The BRC asked 86 CEOs across the retail industry, who represented a combined total of £61bn of retail sales. Their responses were captured in the week commencing 13th April 2020.

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