Retailers' nightmare continues as lockdown sees sales plummet

Ipswich has now recorded the highest infection rate in Suffolk 

Ipswich has now recorded the highest infection rate in Suffolk - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The retail industry has faced its worst year on record with little sign of any respite, business leaders have warned.

Unsurprisingly, with high streets, shopping centres and retail parks emptied except for essential shopping amid the ongoing war against coronavirus, East of England towns recorded a 64% year-on-year decline in footfall in the week beginning Sunday, January 3 according to retail experts Springboard.

That was broadly in line with the national picture, with the region seeing huge annual declines with high streets seeing a 67% fall (70% UK-wide), retail parks suffering a 46% dip (42% across the UK) and shopping centres taking the biggest hit with a 75% decline (71% UK), its data found.

Week-on-week decline were less marked in the region than nationwide - although this followed a very marked drop the previous week.

The East's high streets saw a 9% fall in footfall week-on-week ( (26% UK), retail parks fell 17% (21% UK) and shopping centres by 9% (35% UK).

Meanwhile, separate data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG showed no Christmas respite for the retail sector with a decline in total sales of 0.3% for 2020 overall  - a record low from when records began in 1995.

It showed that with the closure of pubs and restaurants food sales rose 5.4% on average over the year to December, non-food sales declined by 5%.

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Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said further restrictions and the closure of many non-essential shops led to a "dismal" December performance for high street retailers.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said:  “Covid has led to 2020 being the worst year on record for retail sales growth. Physical non-food stores – including all of non-essential retail – saw sales drop by a quarter compared with 2019.

"Christmas offered little respite for these retailers, as many shops were forced to shut during the peak trading period. Though this led to a rise in food-based gifts as many shoppers bought what they could from the shops that were still open.

“With shops still closed for the foreseeable future, costing stores billions in lost sales, many retailers are struggling to survive.

"To avoid the unnecessary loss of shops and jobs government should announce an extension to business rates relief for the worst-affected businesses as soon as possible. With many retailers making decisions over their future, the government must act decisively.”

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle the first working week of 2021 and the introduction of the third national lockdown led to a fall in footfall across UK retail destinations from the week before and was nearly as great as in early November when England entered its second lockdown.

"The decline in footfall from last year is now around the same level as before non-essential retail stores reopened following lockdown 1.0 in June 2020," she said.