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Despair engulfs High Street: Lockdown triggers record sales

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Hundreds of High Street shops expected to close after lockdown ends, as retailers endure worst month on record

Hundreds of High Street shops are expected to close after the lockdown ends, as retailers endured the worst month on record. 

The Office for National Statistics revealed sales slumped almost a fifth in the UK last month, wiping out 15 years of sales growth. 

Online sales hit record levels under lockdown, amounting to nearly £1 in every £3 which was spent at retailers, including supermarkets. 

Walk on by: Online sales hit record levels under lockdown, amounting to nearly £1 in every £3 which was spent at retailers

But this was not enough to offset a dramatic decline in retail sales, which fell 18.1 per cent last month. 

The slowdown was by far the worst experienced by retailers since record began almost 25 years ago, with the 5.2 per cent drop in March the next biggest registered. 

And experts have warned the death of the High Street has been brought forward by five years as customers get used to shopping online. 

Hundreds of stores owned by the household names are on notice with many of them unlikely to reopen when the lockdown lifts next month. 

Social distancing will keep shoppers away just as the recession and widespread job losses hit the amount of disposable cash they have to spend. 

Theo Paphitis, former BBC ‘Dragon’ and the owner of stationer Ryman, yesterday said: ‘Retail will never, ever be the same again. We will come out of this with fewer stores.’ 

With just nine days until shops reopen, the British Retail Consortium pleaded for clearer guidance on exiting the lockdown. 

Ministers have given the all-clear to homeware stores, allowing DFS to open showrooms in Bolton, Leicester and Milton Keynes yesterday. 

Kyle Monk, of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘Coronavirus continues to be a threat to the survival of shops up and down the country. Retailers urgently need clarity on the reopening of shops in June.’ 

Sales of clothes were worse than expected, falling more than 50 per cent month- on-month in April, compounding a 34.9 per cent fall recorded in March. 

As cars sat idle, sales of petrol fell 52 per cent in April, following a 18.7 per cent fall in March, Even supermarkets registered a 2.8 per cent drop in sales last month, as many families stockpiled ahead of the lockdown in March. 

But online retail is booming. As a proportion of total sales it rose from almost £1 in £5 spent before the crisis to almost £1 in £3 now.

Retailers believe that boom will continue after the lockdown, forcing big brands to close many stores. 

This week Marks & Spencer announced it may have to shut more shops to survive, following a collapse in profits. 

John Lewis has said it is ‘highly unlikely’ that all 50 of its department stores will reopen. And Arcadia, the owner of Topshop, served notice to landlords at over 100 stores last month where the leases have rolling breaks or are due to expire, raising the spectre that dozens could close. 

A handful of Clarks shoe shops will also close. The family-owned, 195-year-old chain also announced 900 job losses and is considering selling a minority stake amid a cashflow crisis. 

Ikea has said its Coventry store will close, its first big closure of a UK outlet, and Debenhams has already said 12 department stores will shut.

Retail expert Richard Hyman said: ‘The overwhelming number of retailers have too many shops, and the lockdown will speed up the move to online.’ 

Fellow independent analyst Andrew Busby predicted: ‘The pandemic will massively accelerate store closures.’ 

Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston and electrical store Brighthouse have all gone bust alongside a string of casual dining outlets, leading to hundreds of job losses and dozens of stores closing.

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