EASING restrictions on non-essential retail saw a surge in spending following the latest lockdowns, new figures show. 

Sales in April jumped 9.2 per cent compared with March, with clothes stores proving particularly popular, jumping 25.3 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

Compared with April 2020, during the first national lockdown which left high streets deserted, sales were up 43.4 per cent and were also up 9.9 per cent compared with the last month before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. 

Despite shoppers returning to stores again, the ONS said it had seen long-term trends emerge from the pandemic that look set to stay. 

It found online-only retailers were the biggest winners from the pandemic, with sales up 56 per cent compared with April 2019 and petrol station sales down 13.3 per cent compared with two years ago, as homeworking and reduced travelling hit the sector. 

There were signs that the reopening of pubs and restaurants to outdoor diners was starting to have an impact on food sales, with volumes falling 0.9 per cent in April, following three months of growth.  But sales in the sector remain 8.6 per cent higher than in February 2020. 

Cardiff  retailer Jonathan Hughes-Lewis, owner of Johnathan David Jewellers, said retail in the city centre is definitely on the up, but footfall has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

Mr Hughes-Lewis said retailers noticed the boost immediately restrictions lifted.

“The first three weeks there was a lot of pent up demand. We were busy and it was sort of like Christmas for a lot of retailers, but it did ease of a bit."

The shop in Morgan Arcade, reopened as soon as restrictions allowed on April 12, and had taken tentitive steps in online during the second lockdown. 

“Because of the nature of our business, online isn’t easy, as it’s tangible goods that people like to feel and touch. But from November we were online. It went okay, it was nothing like normal sales figures - it was a little something extra.” 

Hughes-Lewis doesn’t think comparing figures with 2020, when most sectors of the economy were shut down for long periods, is of any value, but said sales this year are keeping pace with the 2018/19, and he's been pleased with the monthly growth in activity on his shop’s website. 

With uncertainty around foreign travel remaining it appears, Hughes-Lewis believes  retailers are seeing the benefit. 

“We’re selling a lot of bigger-ticket times. I think people haven’t had anywhere to go and probably still won’t for a few more months. 

“We seem to be selling at least one engagement ring a day, and wedding rings, I think people want to celebrate they can come out again. 

“But footfall in the city centre is still quite a way down on what we are  used to, but I think that will pick up as things start to relax.” 


According to ONS data, one out of lockdown shoppers across the UK focused on clothes for enjoying new freedoms, including outerwear and knitwear, compared with period shopping habits of wearing comfortable clothes for being stuck indoors. 

Non-essential retail in Wales and England was allowed to reopen from April 12 with shops in Scotland having to wait until April 26.

The easing of travel restrictions  saw a spike in fuel sales, with petrol stations seeing a 69.4 per cent increase compared with March.  It means retail sales have now increased for the past three months as life begins to return to normal. 

But with stores reopening, online retailers across all sectors saw a fall in sales as shoppers opted to ditch their computers and smartphones and head to the high street instead, the ONS added. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Pent-up demand built up during lockdown continues to be released as the reopening of non-essential retail offered the public a welcomed opportunity to visit many of their favourite shops. 

“Improved weather during April meant greater sales of fashion, particularly in outerwear and knitwear, as the public renewed their wardrobe and made plans to meet friends and family outdoors. 

“Online sales also continued to perform strongly, rewarding those retailers who had invested in their online and delivery operations during the pandemic.” 

But the retail lobbying group boss pointed out that the number of shoppers on high streets is still 40 per cent down and 530,000 retail workers remain on furlough. 

Additional reporting: PA