Commenting on the recently released Office for National Statistics (ONS) retail footfall figures for April, British Retail Consortium (BRC) chief executive, Helen Dickinson, has warned that the sector is not out of the woods yet despite promising initial signs.
Data released last week showed that April 2021, the first part-month after non-essential retailers reopened their doors, performed better in some areas than February 2020 – the last pre-pandemic month – with sales volumes over 10% higher.
Commenting on the ONS data, Dickinson said: “The ongoing easing of coronavirus restrictions has meant a second month of sales growth, offering a welcome boost for thousands of retailers in England and Wales.
“Pent-up demand built up during lockdown continues to be released as the reopening of ‘non-essential’ retail offered the public a welcomed opportunity to visit many of their favourite shops.
“Improved weather during April meant greater sales of fashion, particularly in outerwear and knitwear, as the public renewed their wardrobe and made plans to meet friends and family outdoors.
“Online sales also continued to perform strongly, rewarding those retailers who had invested in their online and delivery operations during the pandemic.”
However, the chief executive did have some words of warning for retailers, saying: “While the figures are a step in the right direction after many months of retail closure, demand remains fragile. Footfall is still down by 40% on the pre-pandemic period, and there are still 530,000 people who work in retail still on furlough.
Finally, she did not hold back in her demands of the government, which she believes must maintain its support of the sector at this key period.
She said: “The end of the full business rates relief in England poses a significant threat to retailers who have spent well over a billion pounds on Covid-secure measures aimed at protecting staff and customers.
“The Government must deliver on its promise to reform the broken business rates system in their ongoing review. By doing so, the industry will be able to make essential investment in improving their digital offering and breathing new life into our high streets and town centres.”