COVID-19: School uniform sales help battered retail sector return to growth

Demand for school uniforms helped Britain’s battered retail sector return to growth last month following the announcement of a roadmap out of lockdown.

Sales rose by 1% in February compared to the same period last year despite the continued closure of non-essential stores, according to figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The figures come a day after the return of pupils to schools in England marking the first stage of the country’s reopening from lockdown.

Shops across the country are pinning their hopes on consumers quickly returning to the high street when they are allowed to restart trading next month.

February’s return to growth, recovering from a 1.3% decline in January, was once again underpinned by continued growth in demand for food and a sharp 82% increase in online sales of non-food products.

Overall non-food sales were still down year-on-year.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said February’s upturn came after a “disappointing” start to the year.

She said: “The prime minister’s roadmap to reopening prompted a burst in spending on non-food items, such as school uniforms.

“Furthermore, with another month of lockdown still to go, online sales were high, rewarding the retailers who have invested digitally.

“While the uptick in sales is encouraging, many retailers are concerned about the months ahead.

“Many retail businesses will be hoping that customers will return to shops, and have spent hundreds of millions on making their premises COVID-secure, but previous reopenings have shown that demand can be slow to come back.

“Government has a vital role to play in building up consumer confidence across the country to power the spending-led recovery.”

Separate figures from Barclaycard on wider consumer spending painted a dismal picture, with sales down by 13.8%.

Hospitality and leisure firms were, as to be expected the biggest losers, with fuel sales also down heavily as travel restrictions and working from home took their toll.

But there was sharp growth in some areas such as food and drink specialists – such as butchers, greengrocers and fresh food box services – and for digital subscriptions and takeaways.

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