Data shows the economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown on Britain has also seen benefits claims soaring and alcohol consumption on the rise. The UK economy could experience its biggest contraction in several centuries. Only panic-buying of food and freezers before the lockdown and household goods purchased bought online prevented a bigger slump.
Petrol sales have declined by 19 percent month on month.
Overall, this marked the largest-ever drop recorded by The Office for National Statistics, ONS, and reflected the closure of many stores from March 23 after the government ordered non-essential shops to shut during the lockdown.
Rhian Murphy, ONS head of retail sales, said: “Retail sales saw their biggest monthly fall since records began over 30 years ago with large declines in clothing and fuel, only partially offset by strong food sales.”
Retail sales fell despite food stores reporting a 10.4 percent increase in trade.
The ONS reported: “Panic buying, or stockpiling, during the coronavirus pandemic was a big factor in the increased sales.”
Speaking to the Daily Mail about the effects of lockdown on the High Street, David Jinks, head of consumer research at the courier service company ParcelHero, said: “The COVID-19 outbreak will be an extinction-level event for the High Street.
“Many new shoppers developed a taste for home food deliveries and for many other products, and the concern is many may never go back.”
Clothing stores reported an overall 35 percent fall in sales and a 16 percent drop in their online business.
This was the only online sales contraction among all types of stores.
In contrast, department store sales increased in March, thanks to a 47 percent surge in internet sales.
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Fiona Cincotta, a financial market analyst at GAIN capital, said: “The data only captures the start of the lockdown, so we know these figures are going to get a lot worse.
“Added to that, without a vaccine it is highly unlikely that there will be a quick rebound in the retail sector.
“Even when the UK starts to ease lockdown restrictions and reopen its economy, there will almost certainly be restrictions on shops, with limits to customer numbers at any one time.”
Last month Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a raft of measures to protect businesses from the worst of the coronavirus fallout, including a business rates holiday.
On Friday, the Government banned commercial landlords from “aggressive rent collection”.
But the measures are not expected to prevent a further decline in the number of businesses on the high street after the lockdown is lifted.
Shoppers, who have become used to shopping online, may continue to maintain deliveries of food and other items instead of visiting bricks and mortar shops.