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UK fashion sales recovery sluggish compared to other key markets, study shows

A new study shows that the UK fashion industry will experience strong growth as pandemic-related restrictions continue to ease globally.

UK fashion sales recovery sluggish compared to other key markets, study shows

"Fashion will continue to experience strong growth as pandemic-related restrictions continue to ease globally, and we look forward to providing the latest fashion at the best prices for consumers."
Eleanor Thomas

UK fashion sales as a proportion of total retail sales remain below their pre-pandemic level, a new study shows.

ONS data shows that in January 2020, prior to the first lockdown, UK fashion sales as a proportion of total retail sales stood at 11.48 per cent (£4.8bn). In June 2021, despite the lifting of most restrictions, the proportion remained below this level at 9.66 per cent (£4.48bn) up from a low of 4.76 per cent (£1.2bn).

The trend contrasts with other key markets, such as the US, which has seen fashion sales surge far beyond their pre-pandemic levels. Other markets, meanwhile, including Canada and Australia, have seen sales broadly match their pre-pandemic level.

Despite the sluggish recovery the UK’s fashion retail sector still retains the greatest share of its country’s total retail sales compared to other major countries.

Commissioned by online shopping platform, Wholee Prime, the research offers insight into the impact of the pandemic on the UK’s fashion retail market and how it compares to others, namely the USA, Canada and Australia.

It shows that the UK fashion sector, pre- and post-pandemic, enjoyed the greatest share of overall retail sales, despite sales dropping from £4.88 billion in January 2020 to £4.48 billion by June 2021. Australia remains second on the list, with fashion sales making up 7.7 per cent of all retail sales, while Canadian and US fashion sales account for 4.64 per cent and 4.25 per cent of total retail sales respectively. Despite the apparent low share of retail sales, however, the US fashion market’s raw sales still far outstrip all other markets rising to £19.9 billion in June 2021.

The figures in part reflect the impacts of varying approaches to the virus, with some countries imposing multiple lockdowns as they dealt with multiple waves of the virus. Following the first wave of the virus in March-April 2020, all four markets experienced severe declines in sales, the most notable of which was the US market, which saw a drop from £16.6 billion in February 2020 to only £2.1 billion in April 2020, a decrease of over 87 per cent.

With fashion stores coming under the bracket of ‘non-essential’ retail, subsequent lockdowns or imposed restrictions led to further falls in sales, which are reflected in the results. In the UK, sales fell by over £750 million from October to November 2020, reducing fashion sales’ share of retail by 1.83 per cent, and by over £2 billion from December 2020 to February 2021, reducing fashion sales’ share of retail by 3.75 per cent.

Outside of the UK, the Australian and Canadian fashion retail sectors have both experienced the effects of further lockdowns. After experiencing few cases throughout 2020 due to implementing some of the most stringent border control policies anywhere in the world, Australia went into lockdown at the end of 2020 due to a major spike in cases in New South Wales. Sales dropped by almost £900 million from December 2020 to January 2021 and have failed to return to the same level as further waves have kept restrictions in place. However, It was over this period that the Australian fashion sector’s share of retail overtook the UK’s for the first time since 2003, overtaking the UK in May and November 2020 before dropping back below the UK April 2021.

Canada has experienced two further lockdowns since April 2020, though Canadian restrictions have limited capacity to 25 per cent in non-essential retail rather than completely halting foot traffic, so the falls in sales have not been as severe. In the US, after seeing its huge fall in sales as it battled with the first wave of the pandemic, fashion retail was not subject to any further nationwide limits, and as such, by June 2021 sales exceeded pre-pandemic levels, by reaching £19.6 billion, £2.7 billion more than January 2020.

Commenting on the figures, Eleanor Thomas, Head of Research at Wholee Prime and author of the report, said of the findings:

“These figures offer us a fascinating insight into how the fashion sector has fared throughout the course of the pandemic in four of our key markets, especially as fashion retail was made to contend with the label of ‘non-essential’.

“Without the ability of online retailers to continue meeting consumer fashion needs during the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions would have been far more severe for the industry. Just a few years ago, consumers were sceptical of shopping for fashion online; the pandemic has laid these fears to rest and the industry now has the potential to boom.

“Fashion will continue to experience strong growth as pandemic-related restrictions continue to ease globally, and we look forward to providing the latest fashion at the best prices for consumers."


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