Online buying and supermarkets fail to offset sales plunge for cars, pubs and shops hit by Covid-19 lockdown

Retail sales plunged 12.7% in March from February as the shutters came down on most shops -- the largest recorded decline since just before the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan unveiled an emergency austerity budget at the onset of the last economic crisis in the early part of 2009.

However, the CSO figures showed that once the big ticket motor trade sales were excluded that the sales by volume fell by only 1.9% in the month, as online sales surged, and millions of people at home unable to shop at physical stores and spend money at pubs and restaurants that had begun to shut down from the middle of March.

Online sales, which the statisticians said accounted for a record 4.3% share of overall sales in March, nonetheless couldn’t offset the fall in spending at shuttered shops and at petrol forecourts. 

The big losers in March were, unsurprisingly, businesses that were forced to close completely by the physical-distancing health restrictions -- including bars and clothing and footwear stores where sales by volume slid by up to 53% from the previous month, and for the motor trade where sales slid 30%.

Other big losers were the stores selling books, newspapers and stationery -- down by 29% -- and department stores, which posted a decline in sales of almost 26%.

Petrol forecourts were also hard hit, with fuel sales posting a decline of 12% in the month.

But there were big winners too. 

Supermarket sales by volume climbed 14% in the month; sales of outlets selling hardware, paints and glass surged by over 13%, pharmaceuticals rose almost 9%; and sales of electrical goods were up by 6%.

At over 15%, the CSO said a significant share of all electrical goods were bought online, with all types of businesses -- apart from the motor trades -- doing more business online.

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