In June, retail sales registered the first increase since lockdown began with the highest rate of growth since May 2018, but BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson warned retail is not out of the woods yet.

Total retail sales improved 3.4% year on year, compared with a 1.6% decline in June 2019, according to the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor. This was far above the three- and 12-month average declines of 6.4% and 2.1% respectively.

Like-for-like UK sales, excluding non-essential stores but including online sales, also grew 10.9% from the same month last year when they had decreased 2.2% from 2018.

In the three months to June 2020, in-store non-food sales declined 46.8% on a total and 11.3% on a like-for-like basis, which was worse than the 12-month average decline of 16.5%.

Online non-food sales fared particularly well, up 48.2% in June, compared with a growth of 3.3% in the same month last year. Consequently, non-food online penetration increased to 50.7% this June, up from 33.1% in 2019.

By contrast, food sales continued to grow. Over the three-month period to June, food sales increased 7.3% on a like-for-like basis and 3.8% on a total basis. This was above the 12-month average incline of 2.7%.

Dickinson said: “Despite footfall still being well below pre-coronavirus levels, average spend was up as consumers made the most of their occasional shopping trips. Computing, furniture and home improvement all continued to do well as the public invested in home comforts and remote working. However, while categories such as food performed strongly, not all retailers can breathe a sigh of relief, with clothing, footwear, and health and beauty still struggling.”

Consumer spending steadies

According to data from Barclaycard, consumer spending also improved, falling just 14.5% in June – the smallest decline since lockdown began.

Spending on essentials grew 6.6% in June, a 5.7% increase from May, largely driven by supermarket expenditure. Spending in supermarkets was up 25.7%, the sharpest incline since lockdown began. Online grocery spend also increased by 105.9% year on year.

Non-essential spend fell less sharply than May, declining 22.3% compared to 2019, and fuel spend improved to -33.8% as more people made the most of the warmer weather and relaxed restrictions to travel and see friends.

The home and DIY and furniture sectors fared the best, with consumer spend up 31.3% and 17.6% year on year respectively.

Barclaycard director Esme Harwood also said: “While shoppers remain understandably cautious, slowly but surely Brits are starting to spend again. Some retailers have seen really positive increases, particularly home improvement, DIY and sports and outdoor outlets, where spend has reached higher levels than before the onset of coronavirus when spending at these stores was in decline.”