March sales indicate brighter Spring with +42.5% increase in retail sales

09 April 2021

  • Retailers record positive result set against poor base of March 2020 
  • Lockdown sees online sales rocket to second highest on record 
  • Lifestyle, homeware and fashion sectors all record positive results

As the UK marked the one year anniversary of lockdown and coronavirus restrictions, retailers saw green shoots of a recovery in March thanks largely to the second best non-store sales result on record, new figures by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP reveal.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST), total like-for-like (LFL) sales, combined in-store and online, increased by +42.5% in March, though from a base of -17.9% for the equivalent month last year. This result, however, is relative to diminished bricks-and-mortar revenues last year when non-essential retail faced the initial stages of Lockdown 1.0. The spike in the overall like-for-like result is less likely to reflect a significant increase in profits than how retail shuttered and discretionary spend was curtailed during the same month last year. 

Moreover, in the current lockdown many retailers have managed to find new ways to adapt and encourage sales, helping to sustain a still diminished number of transactions through in-store channels relative to the same month last year when nearly all trading halted.

Weekly Results 

During the first week of March, total like-for-like sales increased for only the second time in 2021 by +4.53% from a base of +0.58% for the same week last year. The second week of the month saw total like-for-like sales rise by +17.28%, though from a negative base of -11.13% last year. Total like-for-like sales continued their climb in week three (+54.96%), but from a dire base of -37.42% for the same week last year. The final week of March saw total like-for-like sales skyrocket by +131.54%, but from a base of -63.44% for the same week last year, which saw the first lockdown come into effect and all non-essential shops shutter their doors.  

Sector Results

All three sectors recorded positive total like-for-like sales in March, as they rallied from a disastrous March 2020 and consumer confidence cautiously grew as the UK faced the end of lockdown. 

Lifestyle total like-for-like sales rose by +14.7% in March, offsetting a poor base of -11.6% for the equivalent month last year. This result marks the first positive one for total lifestyle since November 2020, pushed into the black by inflated results in the final week of the month.

Fashion total like-for-like sales grew by +57.5% this month from a base of -25.9% for March last year. This marks the first positive result for fashion since February 2020, buoyed by three weeks of positive like-for-like sales for the sector in March.

Rounding out the sectors, homeware continued its sustained positivity and improved by +112.6% in March, though from a base of -9.7% for the same month last year. March’s result continues an eleven-month streak of positive results for total homeware on the back of four weeks of positive like-for-like sales.

The acceleration of online retail thanks to lockdown restrictions continued in March, as total non-store like-for-like sales grew by +157.2% from a base of +13.7% last year. This was the second best result on record, as non-store like-for-like sales continued to ride a wave of higher online spending in the year-to-date.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: 

“While this is a positive result, these March figures are set against a highly disruptive March 2020. While the first lockdown took effect in the final week of March last year, discretionary spend decreased rapidly from February as uncertainty and concerns over COVID-19 spread across the country.

“Sales have improved, without a doubt, as retailers have found ways to adapt to lockdown. From virtual assistants, to live video sales appointments, retailers have found technological solutions to drive sales, instead of simply shutting down like they did last year. However, as last March’s result was so disastrous, these results simply look better on paper as they’re set against such a poor base.

“As retailers reopen next week, we’ll likely see a short term surge in sales thanks to pent up demand, an uptick of consumer confidence and shoppers simply being ready to leave their homes after four long months of lockdown.

“It remains to be seen how sustainable this initial rush will be as the next six weeks is unlikely to be an accurate prediction of retail activity over the next six to twelve months. Nevertheless, the reopening of the economy with all non-essential retailers able to open their doors will provide a much awaited and welcome boost to bricks and mortar retailers.”


Note to editors

Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP provides integrated advice and solutions to help businesses navigate a changing world. 

Our clients are Britain’s economic engine – ambitious, entrepreneurially-spirited and high-growth businesses that fuel the economy.  

We share our clients’ ambitions and their entrepreneurial mind-set. We have the right combination of global reach, integrity and expertise to help them succeed.  

BDO LLP operates in 18 offices across the UK, employing 6,000 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP is the UK member firm of the BDO international network.

BDO’s global network
The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 167 countries, with 91,000 people working out of 1,658 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $10.3bn.  


Erin Dodds or Sophie Isles
Tel:+44 07802 416548 or +44 0796 4445820
Email: [email protected]