Britain’s retailers are downbeat about the prospects of a rapid bounce back in business after the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, the CBI has reported.
Despite the reopening of non-essential stores from 15 June, retailers fear that a lack of demand and a continued absence of staff due to school closures will leave sales in July well below levels of a year ago.
Only 21% of retailers said they expected business to be brisker in July 2020 than in the same month of 2019, while 68% predicted they would be lower. The gap between the optimists and pessimists was slightly wider than in the last CBI distributive trades survey a month ago.
The survey of 71 retailers conducted before the reopening of non-essential shops found sales were down heavily year on year, although the June was slightly less marked than those in April and May. The balance of firms saying annual sales were down stood at -37 percentage points, compared with -50% in May and -55 in April.
Asked which issues presented operational challenges for restarting their business, 62% of retailers cited lack of demand from customers, 61% workforce absences due to school closures, 38% cost pressures and 35% transport difficulties.
Rain Newton-Smith, the CBI chief economist, said: “With high street shops, department stores and shopping centres reopening across England last week amid some scenes of long queues, you’d be forgiven for thinking retailers’ difficulties are coming to an end. But the health of the retail sector remains in the balance.
“Despite retailers working flat out to make sure they are safe and ready to open their doors, outside the grocery sector most retailers expect sales to be far below where they were this time last year.
“Enabling these businesses to open is a critical step on the road to restarting our economy and will help support hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK.”