South Africa’s retail sales for April plummeted to the largest decline on record, Stats SA has announced. 

Sales were down 50.4% for April 2020 compared to the same month in 2019. 

“Seasonally adjusted sales at current prices slumped by almost 50% under level 5 lockdown in April, compared with March. This is the biggest monthly fall in sales since 2002, when Stats SA started publishing monthly growth figures in the current series,” Keshnee Naidoo, director for distributive trade statistics at Stats SA, said in a voice note issued in conjunction with the release of the retail sales data.

During April, lockdown restrictions were at level 5, which meant only essential services could operate.

May retail sales declined by 12%, reflecting a rebound as some sectors of the economy slowly reopened.

The comparisons were based on constant 2015 prices. 

Prior to the lockdown, which was instituted on 26 March, retail sales increased by a steady 2.7% in March as a result of panic buying by consumers.

It was expected that the ban on cigarette and alcohol sales during the month of April would impact the figures, according to a note issued by FNB economists prior to the data release. They also expected April’s print to be the largest on record.

Retail sales data for April plummeted 50.4% at the

Retail sales for April plummeted by a record 50.4% due to lockdown. (Graph: Stats SA).

The data for April shows that the biggest contributors to negative growth were textiles, clothing, footwear and leather goods retailers; followed by all other retailers; hardware, paint and glass.  

The largest contributors to the decline in May were “other” retailers; food, beverages and tobacco in specialised stores; and general dealers.