Strong sales of furniture, DIY goods and groceries have pushed the volume of goods sold by retailers and wholesalers to their highest level in 18 months, according to the CBI.
September’s monthly health check of high street and online sales from the business lobby group reported that sales of household furniture were 39% higher than normal, with DIY up 20% and groceries up 10% as shoppers continued to adapt their homes and dine in during the pandemic. Grocers, who continue to benefit from a shift to eating at home, were the primary drivers of growth.
However, the CBI’s poll of 56 major retailers found sales of clothing were down 40% while department store sales slid by nearly a quarter.
Internet sales growth also slowed to below the longterm average as shops reopened and buyers returned to high streets and shopping centres.
The figures indicate the varied fortunes of retail sectors flagged by the Office for National Statistics last month continue.
Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q and Screwfix, this week said it planned to hand back furlough cash to the UK government after sales rose and profits soared during lockdown while John Lewis said sales at its department stores slid by 10%. While Screwfix is opening more outlets, John Lewis and rival department store chains Debenhams and House of Fraser are all closing sites as they face increasing competition online and from specialist high street stores.
The shift to working from home and restrictions across the UK on events such as weddings, festivals and club nights, has also hit clothing chains including New Look, Topshop and Marks & Spencer which are all closing outlets.
Ben Jones, the CBI’s principal economist, said: “The data highlights that there have been clear winners and losers within the retail sector as spending habits have changed. While some sub-sectors are thriving, others are still facing desperately difficult times.”
Jones said the results suggested that the recovery in retail spending over the summer months has continued into September but retailers were cautious about the near-term outlook. While sales this month were seen as above average for the time of year for the first time since November, retailers expected sales in October to be only in line with a year ago.
“With social distancing measures tightening again, those working in the hardest-hit sectors will be fearing the worst. It’s clear that targeted support measures will be needed to ensure that viable businesses can emerge intact on the other side of this crisis,” Jones said.