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Mixed picture for retail sector, CBI finds

Retail sales were broadly flat in the year to July despite three months of sharp declines, according to the monthly Distributive Trades Survey published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

However, the improvement was primarily driven by stronger grocery sales, with non-essential retailers continuing to struggle despite the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Alongside higher grocery volumes, sales of hardware and DIY products, other normal goods (including cards, flowers, stationary) returned to growth in the year to July.

Other retailers, including clothing, footwear and department stores, continued to report significant declines as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In some cases, falls were less severe than in recent months.

Overall, the CBI expects sales to dip slightly in the year to August.

Commenting on the figures, Rain Newton-Smith, Chief Economist at the CBI, said: 'It's great to see retail sales stabilise this month, but this doesn't tell the whole story. This crisis has created winners and losers within the retail sector and for some businesses the picture remains bleak.

'The re-opening of non-essential retail was a vital step towards recovery but isn't a cure-all. The government has provided critical support for firms and jobs throughout the crisis. But ongoing financial pressures are a major challenge for some retailers, and additional direct support to shore up cashflow, such as extension of business rates relief, should be considered.'