Retail Sales Continue To Recover As the UK Heads Out of Lockdown

Dominic Goslett, director of retail for TransUnion in the UK, comments on the latest retail sales index from the Office for National Statistics (ONS):

“The ONS retail sales figures for March 2021 show an increase of 5.4% when compared to the previous month. This continuing recovery is an encouraging sign as consumer confidence picks up, giving the retail industry a much needed boost and marking a return to sales levels higher than in February 2020, before the pandemic began. Clothing and other non-food stores were key areas of growth, up 17.5% and 13.4% respectively.

The proportion spent online saw a slight decrease in March 2021, to 34.7% but was still significantly higher than the 23.1% reported in March 2020. Even with restrictions on non-essential retail stores now lifted, the move towards e-commerce is here to stay.

“On the landmark reopening of retail on 12 April, as part of the roadmap out of the third national lockdown, consumers flocked back to the shops, with footfall across high streets, retail parks and malls up 90% that week, according to retail analysts. This was a huge boost for the economy, likely driven by pent-up demand and craving for human interaction. The social element of in-person shopping can’t be replicated online, whereas the transactional digital experience provides the ease and convenience consumers crave.

“The pandemic has changed the retail landscape irrevocably, with retailers forced to reassess their offering and in some cases make tough decisions. We’ve seen continuing closures of various high street stalwarts, with John Lewis announcing another eight store closures in March, saying it will invest instead in improving click-and-collect services.

“As we look ahead, UK consumers are sounding cautious about spending, with TransUnion’s recent Consumer Pulse study finding that half say they expect their spending, whether in-store or online for things like clothing, electronics and durable goods to remain the samei over the next three months.

“For retailers coming out of what has been an incredibly tough 12 months, this is an opportunity to reflect on their offering and to think about the future so they can invest carefully. For some that’s a blended approach, with an online engine alongside a physical presence, which could be for in-store experience or simply for collection and exchange of goods. We’ve seen how excited consumers were to get back to the high street but in the longer term they’re going to demand more of the in-store experience as a social outing, as a counterbalance to the swift and smooth experience of shopping online. It’s up to retailers to listen.”



i TransUnion’s Consumer Pulse (formerly the Financial Hardship Study), based on research conducted 5 – 9 March with 1,100 UK consumers on behalf of TransUnion