Why Fashion Retailers Will Bear the Brunt of the Coronavirus’ Economic Impact in the UK

One-fifth of the United Kingdom’s fashion spend could be wiped out amidst the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report from Global Data.

The market research and analytics firm further predicts that apparel and footwear sales will drop by 11.1 billion pounds ($13.5 billion) in 2020 compared with 2019.

“Amid a U.K. lockdown and self-isolation, buying new clothes and footwear is far from a top priority for consumers, making spring/summer a season to forget for fashion retailers — but one with long-lasting consequences,” said Kate Ormrod, lead retail analyst at Global Data.

Prior to mass store closures due to the coronavirus, U.K. retail sales were flat in February 2020 compared with February 2019, according to the Office of National Statistics. Sales had risen each month since March 2013.

As brick-and-mortar outposts are shut, retailers are turning their focus to e-commerce. UK courier services specialist ParcelHero is forecasting e-comm sales to make up a far bigger slice of the overall retail pie as consumers turn to online ordering. The firm estimates that the channel will see its share rise from 20% to 40%.

But while retailers are trying to woo quarantined shoppers online by offering discounts and promoting loungewear, Ormrod said these plays are likely to have “little impact at present.”

“Fashion specialists must exploit the online channel and social media to keep shoppers engaged while their bricks-and-mortar operations are out of action,” she said. “However, any notion that online sales will fully counteract those lost in-store is wishful thinking.”

On March 24, Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed the U.K. on lockdown, ordering the temporary shuttering of all non-essential shops, including fashion retailers, for at least three weeks. Public gatherings of more than two people (excluding family members) have also been banned for now. Similar measures have been implemented in other Western European countries including Italy, Spain and France.

According to Johns Hopkins, there are more than 9,900 cases of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, in the U.K. Over 470 people have died.

In the United States, the coronavirus has had averse economic effects across a number of industries, including retail as well as food and beverage and travel. For the week ended March 21, nearly 3.3 million Americans filed jobless claims (on a seasonably adjusted basis) — the highest number in history for a single week. During the prior week, Americans filed a total of 281,000 new claims, which was already the highest level recorded since 2017.

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