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July’s UK Retail Sales Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels, But Apparel Still Lags

U.K. retail sales in July rose 3.6 percent from June’s volume, and now are 3.0 percent above February’s pre-pandemic levels.

Online retail sales fell by 7.0 percent in July when compared with June, but strong growth during the months of the coronavirus pandemic meant that sales are still 50.4 percent higher than February’s tally prior to Covid-19 disruption. By category, online department store sales fell 18.5 percent between June and July, while sales were down 11.2 percent over the same period at apparel and footwear stores. Online sales as a proportion of retailing accounted for 29.7 of volume for department stores and 30.9 percent for apparel and footwear retailers.

For hard-hit apparel retailers, forced to temporarily shutter under shelter-in-place orders, July’s volume increased 11 percent. Despite the increase, sales remained 25.7 percent off from February’s mark. The department-store sector essentially were flat from June to July, when sales came in 5.1 percent lower than their pre-Covid levels. Department stores were able to sell some goods online, including food, even though stores were closed. That also meant the sector saw less dramatic falls in March and April and, in turn, smaller growths to recovery.

The data from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics on Friday has been seasonally adjusted, and while volume reflecting the quantity bought is now at 3.0 percent above pre-pandemic levels in February, the value reflecting the amount spent is up just 1.7 percent over the same period.

Still, the 11 percent rise between June and July for apparel retailers could be viewed as a sign that shoppers are slowly returning to the high street.

Several British chains have recently reviewed and restructured operations to right-size for a consumer spending less on fashion and more on necessities.

Earlier this week, Marks & Spencer said it would shed 7,000 jobs, on top of the 950 it already cut, while Selfridges, John Lewis and Harrods have also made slashed staffing levels. Debenhams, Victoria’s Secret U.K. and DVF Studio have been even less fortunate, collapsing into administration and closing’s  doors.

Growth in the retail sales industry contributes about 5.4 percent to U.K.’s gross domestic product, according to the Office of National Statistics.