People return to supermarkets as online sales slow

a person standing in front of a store © Getty Images

People grew more confident about shopping in supermarkets in April as lockdown restrictions eased, according to research firm Nielsen.

Till sales rose steadily, while online grocery sales growth slowed.

Meanwhile, Virgin Money boss David Duffy said credit card spending had picked up since "non-essential" shops began to reopen in April.

Last week, Barclays boss Jes Staley predicted the biggest economic boom since 1948 due to pent up demand.

And on Tuesday Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the Wall Street Journal there were "signs to be cautiously optimistic" that the UK economy would bounce back strongly as restrictions lift.

Supermarket demand

There had been a massive growth in online supermarket sales since the first coronavirus lockdowns began in March 2020, with growth consistently remaining above 70% as shoppers scrambled for delivery slots, Nielsen said.

But as the latest lockdowns eased in April and confidence started to rise, visits to bricks and mortar stores went up by 3%, and till sales had a grew by 4.6%.

At the same time, online sales growth slowed to 25%, although the value of online sales remained strong at £1.3bn.

By contrast, in the four weeks to 24 April shoppers spent £8bn in UK stores, the marketing research firm said.

Lidl and Aldi got the biggest boost as more people started shopping in-store, while of the "big four" supermarkets Asda and Sainsbury's saw the fastest growth.

"As lockdown restrictions ease across the UK, it is clear that shopper behaviours have changed once again with growing confidence and growing numbers returning to stores," said Mike Watkins, NielsenIQ's UK head of retailer and business insight.

"While online sales remain high, we're noticing a rebalancing of shopper baskets as consumers spread their spend beyond the lockdown staples," he added.

Pent up demand

Meanwhile, finance firm Virgin Money said its view of the UK economy had improved as the coronavirus vaccination programme continued to roll out.

Virgin Money chief executive David Duffy told the BBC that the bank had "a level of confidence... that spending has returned to a degree and will continue to increase".

He said since non-essential shops had reopened in April, credit card spending was up 25%.

In the last month, credit card spending had almost returned to pre-pandemic spending levels, "and that's without the big surge in travel", he said.

"There is a desire to come back and spend, and that's happening now," he added. "It's evident in our card business."

Mr Duffy's comments echoed those made by Barclays chief executive Jes Staley, who last week predicted the biggest economic boom since World War Two as a result of pent up consumer demand.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday also said the "signs are promising" for the UK economy. He told the Wall Street Journal: "As we look forward to reopening over the coming weeks and months, there are signs to be cautiously optimistic, and we can see that in the data, and I'm hopeful that would be sustained through the rest of the year."

People return to supermarkets as online sales slow