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British retail sales fell by a record 18.1% in April as many stores were closed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The drop in April worsened from a fall of 5.2% in March, when the government first introduced lockdown measures.

Clothing sales plummeted by 50.2% as many High Street shops were shut, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Online shopping as a proportion of all retail reached a record high of 30.7%, the ONS said.

All types of shop, other than those selling clothing or household goods, saw record amounts being spent with them online.

But overall, the three-monthly growth rate in retail sales, including physical shops and petrol, slumped by 8.6%.

Every sector other than food and online shopping saw a fall.

Shift to online

Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, said that the shift to online had benefitted “those retailers with the slickest e-commerce operations and who managed to cope with the shift in demand.

“Online grocery retailers were one of the major beneficiaries as they worked at an incredible pace to boost capacity.”

In April, the proportion of online spending on food increased from 5.7% to 9.3%, according to the ONS.

Elsewhere, off-licence sales also continued to increase, rising by 2.3% after a 23.9% jump in March.

Demand ‘decimated’

Mr Lim added that that the impact of lockdown had “paralysed” the industry.

“Clothing retailers were the hardest hit as the absence of social interaction, whether that’s going to work, seeing friends or heading off on holiday, decimated demand for new outfits,” he said.

The fall in non-food sales in April resulted in the lowest levels of clothing and shoe sales seen since the ONS starting collecting the data.

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Separate figures from retail research firm Springboard show that the number of shoppers visiting UK High Streets, retail parks and shopping centres fell by 80% in April amid the lockdown.

That was almost double the level of March’s downturn when there was a 41.3% drop in visits to shopping locations.

Several fashion firms have been struggling as customers stay at home.

Clothing giant Primark, for example, said last month it had gone from making £650m in sales a month to nothing after the coronavirus outbreak forced it to close its stores in Europe and the US.

‘Turning point’

Despite the gloomy news, Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “Retail sales should recover some of April’s lost ground in May.”

He said that was despite the fact that lockdown measures on store closures in England have not changed significantly since they were introduced.

This point was echoed by Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC: “However bad April’s figures are, we believe that retail has reached a turning point in the Covid-19 crisis.

“In the short term, May has already seen a loosening of lockdown restrictions across all the home nations.”

Since the start of lockdown, garden centres have been allowed to open again in England.

Other retailers classified as essential, such as DIY stores Homebase and B&Q, re-opened some sites around the end of April.