Photo: Woolworths

THEBE MABANGA

SOUTH AFRICA’S retail sales got a fillip just ahead of the national lockdown with a 2% increase in February compared to February last year, figures released by Statistics South Africa on Wednesday showed.

Figures for March and April will be blighted by the National State of Disaster declared in Mid-March and the National Lockdown that started at the end of that month and saw non-food and medical retailers closed for the entire month of April.

In February food, beverages and tobacco sales in specialised stores rose by 1%, after surging by 4,7% in January while pharmaceuticals and medical goods, cosmetics and toiletries fell by 2%.

These categories will likely have been boosted by the lockdown as they were declared essential and remained opened throughout.

Retailers of household furniture, appliances and equipment showed a 4,7% rise in sales while retailers in textiles, clothing, footwear and leather goods saw a 1,5% increase in sales. Hardware, paint and glass fell by 0,5% a reflection of the poor state of the construction industry even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

All other retailers had an 8,9% increase. All these will likely have been closed for parts of March and all of April.

In the three months to February this year, retail sales rose by 0,8% compared to the corresponding quarter a year ago.  Last week, Stats SA reported that Real Wholesale trade, from wholesaler’s warehouses to retail shop floors, fell by 0.9% in February from a year earlier.

The COVID-19 pandemic will now shift focus to the role of online trade and focus on its impediments in South Africa, from high data prices lower penetration as well as restrictions placed on e commerce until recently by trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel.

Two weeks ago, it was found that online activity is booming, yet South African online sales were restricted to essential goods such as sanitizers and food. “Since the start of the lockdown period, we’ve seen a 40% increase in page views per user and a 15% increase in basket sizes,” says Laurien Venter, director of online retailer OneDayOnly.

Venter added that many brick and mortar retailers have e-commerce sites that could enable their businesses to gain some traction during the lockdown. And those that do not can use platforms like OneDayOnly or Takealot to sell their products. 

Patel lifted restrictions only last week following intense lobbying pressure.

(Compiled by Inside Politics staff)

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