With all of the fine May weather Neil has been inspired to start planning the NTI Summer Party, an invitation to which you can expect to have arrived by now had you made the shortlist. He has put Martin Bashir in charge of detailed arrangements, Sanjeev Gupta is looking after funding and Dave Cameron has been lobbying the acts. In the background Harry Kane has been busying himself ensuring that everyone involved sticks to their agreed financial obligations.
Neil himself has been out shopping for canapes and party bags, and has noticed a marked increase in footfall in Belgravia, as compared to last May when all stores were closed. This gave him the idea of checking whether it was just his impression, or if he has contracted 'lockdown fever' which is known to affect the mind and its perspective (a condition that originated in the BBC Newsroom, and which has spread like an uncontained bushfire among media outlets over the past 15 months). He got Tracee on the case and she turned, of course, to the BDO High Street Sales Tracker, the most recognised source of all knowledge in the sector.
It turns out that Neil might be onto something. The Tracker records that total like-for-like sales increased by +600.2 per cent in April, from a base of -29.6 per cent for the equivalent month last year. Buttoning down the detail, total in-store like-for-like sales rose by +11266.9 per cent in April. Total non-store LFLs grew by +28.2 per cent in April from a base of +109.6 per cent last year.
For those of you who think that the high street will bounce back and now crush the pretender to its throne, sitting geekily in the dark with a keyboard, there is a note of caution. Despite
relatively flat non-store like-for-like sales for the final two weeks of April (-7.58 per cent and +2.82 per cent, respectively), online activity stayed strong across the month, growing from an already very high base last year.
Shopping centres saw the largest rebound in that week as footfall rose +399.6 per cent, whereas footfall of the high street increased by +345.9 per cent and footfall at retail parks
increased by +226.0 per cent. Though footfall declined in the final week of April, compared to week three, all venues saw triple-digit rises in each week of the month. Okay, enough numbers; what do the Office for National Statistics (ONS) make of it all? Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Economists have been reported as being variously 'confounded' and 'astonished' by the most recent growth numbers, but how any of these people can earn a crust bugger only knows. One of them, Hardy Gotaclue, was quoted as saying: "I'm amazed. My daughter, Chloe, had a birthday again this year on the same date as last, and I had predicted there was less than a 12 per cent chance of that happening before August or September of this year. Honestly? I'm dumbfounded."
The ONS showed volumes rose 9.2 per cent last month from March after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted from 12 April in England and Wales and two weeks later in Scotland, unleashing pent-up demand following months of closures. They charted a leap of almost 70 per cent in clothing sales on a monthly basis, supporting corporate updates from the likes of Primark and Superdry that they enjoyed record levels of sales as tills sprung back to life.
The bounceback of high street shops bodes well for the outlets that cling to them like limpets. The likes of casual dining emporia, sandwich chains and coffee shops are also enjoying sharp rises in income and you can't get any of the stuff they purvey online (with due deference to UberEats, Just-Eat and their like). Could it be that they become the dominant party in a symbiotic relationship, where in-store shopping relies upon them to attract folk away from their laptops.