The BBC reports that the data from ONS shows retail sales volumes in August rose by 0.8 per cent from July, and are now 4 per cent above pre-pandemic levels in February. Month-on-month, sale values were up 0.7 per cent, and 2.5 per cent than February.

However, clothing store sales, the worst hit during the pandemic, saw volume sales in August still 15.9 per cent lower than February, and in the year to date, sale volumes at clothing and footwear stores are 30.1 per cent lower than the same period in 2019.

An ONS survey that examined the impact of COVID-19 on businesses showed that the majority of stores that experienced a decrease in footfall due to the pandemic were those selling textiles, clothing and footwear. 85.7 per cent of businesses in the sector said footfall in the last two weeks was down in comparison to normal expectations for this time of year.

Online retail sales fell by 2.5 per cent in August, but the strong growth experienced by online retailers during the crisis meant that sale volumes were still 46.8 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels. For online footwear and clothing retailers, sales values were up by 33.1 per cent year-on-year in August, and up 5.4 per cent compared to July.

Lynda Petherick, head of retail for Accenture UK and Ireland noted that the figures for August were evidence that consumers were slowly returning to normal, especially during the busy back-to-school period.

However, a dark cloud still hangs over the sector which means the apparent rebound could prove to be a false dawn. The recent tightening of lockdown measures, both locally and nationally, will be a bitter pill to swallow for retailers, and could lead to a steep drop in consumer confidence in September,” she said.

She added that the external environment is subject to constant shifting, and customer loyalty has become increasingly indispensable, and the needs and expectations of the consumer are changing.

Brands have to be ready to adapt and implement new business models that are grounded in responsible purchasing, as well as combining both in-store and online channels to keep hold of the gains they’ve made in the coming months.

Sara Korchmaros, chief commercial officer at the retail technology platform Recash, notes while the increased footfall in town centres as a result of Eat Out to Help Out is likely to have boosted sales in high street stores, there is still a mountain to climb.

She suggested that retailers who successfully combine their physical and online offerings are the ones who will most likely survive in the new environment, and that physical stores could now be playing a supporting role to their online counterparts.

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