But the record online growth highlights the task ahead for bricks-and-mortar shops

The key findings from the Office for National Statistics showed:

  • In the three months to April 2019, the quantity of goods bought (volume) in retail sales increased by 1.8% when compared with the previous three months, with strong growth in non-store retailing, which reached a record high of 9.4%.
  • Online retailers selling clothing items were the driver to this growth, with the warm weather helping to boost sales.
  • When compared with the previous year, the quantity bought in April 2019 increased by 5.2%, with growth across all sectors except household goods, which fell by 4.5%.
  • The quantity bought was flat (0.0%) in April 2019 when compared with the previous month, with growths in clothing, non-store retailing and fuel offset by falls in all other main sectors.
  • In April 2019, online retailing accounted for 18.7% of total retailing compared with 17.7% in April 2018, with an overall growth of 10.1% when compared with the same month a year earlier. 

Phil Mullis, Partner and Head of Retail and Wholesale at accountancy firm, Wilkins Kennedy, said:  “These results show that any retailer out there without an online presence is severely harming their business. Last month concluded the highest three-month-on-three-month growth rate for non-store retailing since records began (9.4%). We know this has been happening for a while, but this is a big statement and should set alarm bells ringing for independent retailers looking for ways to keep their profits ahead of the pressurised cost of business rates.

“You only have to look at Topshop owner Arcadia who are closing 23 stores via a CVA agreement, as well as Select’s administration, to see that unless you a serving a standout purpose on the high street, you are likelier to survive and thrive online. It would be naïve for store retailers to shut up shop and go completely online – it’s important to really understand who your customers are first and where they want to shop – more often than not store and online can operate effectively and innovation needs to fundamentally start with combining the physical and online worlds.

“Overall figures for the retail sector are positive with continued three-month-on-three-month and year-on-year growth, with clothing and fuel being the main winners, but these sectors can’t prop up the sector in the long-term with household goods retailers continuing to suffer. The summer is going to be a key period for those in the household goods sector, and if they can do enough to capitalise on the weather by striking the right balance between competitive pricing and multi-channel innovation, then the sector could be heading into a really strong position into the festive trading period.”

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