Singapore retail sales see worst-ever 40.5% plunge in April on Covid-19 circuit breaker

An empty Funan Mall on June 3, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Singapore's retail sales in April suffered their biggest drop since 1986 when growth rate records began as circuit breaker measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic kicked in.

Takings at the till plunged by 40.5 per cent year on year, according to data released by the Department of Statistics on Friday (June 5). Excluding motor vehicles, retail sales fell 32.8 per cent.

This was a much steeper fall than the 13.3 per cent decline in March and makes for 15 straight months that retail sales have dropped.

Month-on month and seasonally adjusted, retail turnover dropped 31.7 per cent from March. Excluding motor vehicles, sales declined 26 per cent.

Circuit breaker measures, which started on April 7 and ended June 1, caused all non-essential businesses to close, including retail stores.

Food and beverage (F&B) sales in April sank 53 per cent year on year, as F&B establishments could not allow dine in customers, but only provide takeaway or delivery services.

Retail sales might not have even bottomed out yet, said Associate Professor Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore Business School.

“April is probably the beginning, and not the end, of the sales bottoming. The circuit break period has been extended and even in the economic reopening, the retail restrictions are still present in the initial phases. If the restrictions are to be eventually removed, consumer demand will not jump up right away,” he said.

Prof Loh also said that while the circuit breaker restrictions are the single most hard factor, economic uncertainties also contributed to the lower consumer spending.

Sellers of discretionary items were hit the hardest by these moves, with the sales of watches and jewellery dropping 87.8 per cent. Retailers of wearing apparel and footwear also saw takings drop 85.3 per cent.

Sales at department stores also plunged some 84.6 per cent, due to the closure of physical stores for most of the month, the Department said.

Motor vehicle sales fell 77 per cent, while the sale of optical goods and books slid 64.5 per cent.

Recreational goods takings dropped 63.4 per cent, while food and alcohol sales decreased 53.4 per cent.

Sales at petrol service stations, cosmetics, toiletries and medical goods and furniture and household equipment also registered double-digit declines.

But sales at supermarkets and hypermarkets rose 74.6 per cent, as essential stores remained open.

Minimarts and convenience stores also saw an increase in takings of 10.7 per cent.

For food and beverage services, restaurants bore the blunt of the blow, with sales dropping 66.9 per cent.

Food caterers saw a decrease of 59.8 per cent, while cafes, food courts and other eating places saw a drop of 45.5 per cent.

Meanwhile, fast food outlets also saw declines of 28.6 per cent.

The estimated total sales value of food and beverage services stood at $397 million, with online sales making up about 39.2 per cent.

Estimated total retail takings in April was about $2.1 billion, with online sales making up around 17.8 per cent, more than double the share in March.

Ms Selena Ling, OCBC Bank head of treasury research and strategy, said: “The shift towards online sales continued to accelerate ... of which necessities such as supermarkets and hypermarkets, as well as computer and telecommunications equipment and furniture and household equipment to support work-from-home arrangements and home based learning arrangements for students, continued to be the key drivers.”

She added that she expects full year total retail sales to contract 9.5 per cent, which is more than three times the 2.8 per cent decline last year.

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