During the last few weeks, several of SA’s popular retailers have published their annual results, with all saying that they only recently recovered from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns and the civil unrest that caused chaos in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
However, the monthly retail sales figures that Statistics SA collects from retailers show that consumers are shopping as much as ever before.
The few months of Covid-19 lockdowns during 2020 and the civil unrest in 2021 were only short-lived hiccups.
Admittedly, people cannot stop eating, while a few beers and new clothes are believed to be necessities too.
The latest Stats SA Retail Sales report shows that retail sales at current prices increased by 7.7% in April 2022 compared to April 2021. Stripping out the effect of rising prices, retail sales increased by 3.4% in constant 2015 prices compared to a year ago.
Tables of monthly retail sales included in the report make for interesting reading.
The tables of retail sales in constant prices and in terms of current prices provide data going back to January 2016. Both show the same trend every year: retail sales start low in January after the December holiday boost, rise steadily during the year, and end the year with a blast in December.
For instance, retail sales in January 2019 were estimated at R73.3 billion constant prices, down from R107.9 billion in December 2018. The figures increased most months and got the annual boost to R107.4 billion in December.
Monthly retail sales since 2016 (current prices)
|Jan||72 295||75 885||80 046||82 627||86 080||84 567||94 610|
|Feb||73 080||76 845||82 111||84 962||88 991||93 241||95 876|
|Mar||75 133||80 072||85 788||88 061||93 703||93 763||99 027|
|Apr||74 740||79 929||82 155||86 120||46 449||89 035||95 892|
|May||78 529||83 528||87 277||90 922||82 102||97 658|
|Jun||75 420||81 035||84 311||88 547||83 850||96 438|
|Jul||76 928||81 482||84 161||87 914||82 142||84 419|
|Aug||78 099||85 074||88 634||92 086||90 321||92 652|
|Sep||77 238||84 362||86 601||89 471||89 019||94 374|
|Oct||79 282||84 412||87 748||90 638||91 054||96 191|
|Nov||87 418||96 693||101 458||106 983||104 445||110 743|
|Dec||112 299||120 421||120 815||123 595||125 259||133 121|
|Total||960 461||1 029 738||1 071 105||1 111 926||1 063 415||1 166 202|
Source: Stats SA
The pattern was interrupted only twice during the six years (and a few months) for which data is presented.
According to the Stats SA data, retail sales took a sudden fall in April 2020 when government forced the closure of all retailers other than those selling products the government deemed to be essential. The lockdown started on 27 March 2020 and was in effect for most of April that year.
Retail sales dropped from R79.6 billion in March 2020 to less than R37.9 billion in April, and while they recovered sharply after the April disruptions, they were consistently around 5% lower every month during the rest of 2020 compared to the previous year.
The obvious reason is that most people had less money and some had no income at all.
The second significant fall in monthly retail sales happened in July 2021 when social unrest and the looting of retailers and their warehouses in KwaZulu-Natal brought the retail sector in large parts of the province and parts of Gauteng to a standstill.
The effect of the unrest was that total retail sales decreased by more than 12% in July compared to the previous month, according to the Stats SA figures (in constant 2015 prices). The current price data shows a similar month-on-month decrease in July 2021 – sales fell by just more than 12%, or R12 billion.
Retailers that published results for their most recent reporting periods commented on the big impact of the lockdowns and civil unrest on their sales and profits.
Pick n Pay
Pick n Pay chef executive Pieter Boone said in his commentary to the group’s results for the year to end-February 2022 that the outbreak of civil unrest across KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng in July 2021 was “one of the worst episodes” in the country’s democratic history.
He said that 212 Pick n Pay and Boxer stores and two distribution centres were damaged and looted during the violence. A further 551 stores were closed on a precautionary basis to safeguard staff and customers.
“The Group is strongly represented in terms of store numbers in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, and 37% of its estate was closed at the height of the civil disorder.
“Nine Pick n Pay and seven Boxer stores currently remain closed. These stores are located in severely damaged shopping centres, with the reinstatement of each store dependent on the restoration of the centre as a whole,” said Boone.
However, he stated that the retail group performed well during the year overall – mirroring the trend evident from the Stats SA figures.
Pick n Pay posted an increase in revenue of just 5.2% for the year to February 2022, with management saying Covid-19 restrictions that banned alcohol sales during the first few months of the financial year were to blame. The group estimated that it lost R2.7 billion in sales arising from store closures as a result of the civil unrest and the trading restrictions on liquor.
Commenting on the prospects for the immediate future, Boon warned stakeholders that the trading environment is bound to stay difficult.
“Greater efficiency will be key in a year when the Group expects to see potentially significant inflationary and other cost pressures. These are already evident in the operating environment, and reflect both international factors – in particular the invasion of Ukraine and its consequences – and local factors, including higher insurance and security costs following the civil unrest and costs required to mitigate the impact of load shedding.”
Dis-Chem, also announcing results for the year to end February, noted the same trends. It reported that retail revenue increased by 6.1% on a comparable store basis during the financial year, and a hefty 15.6% overall to R27.1 billion.
The high growth rate results from stronger growth in pharmaceutical and health products, evident in the Stats SA report as well.
“The group is pleased with the good performance of its businesses during the current period considering the constrained consumer environment, the challenges that were posed by the pandemic as well as the civil unrest that was experienced in July 2021,” noted management in its commentary to the results.
Mr Price CEO Mark Blair also mentioned the Covid-19 and civil unrest disruptions when commenting on the group’s results for the year to April 2022: “External challenges were faced during the period which included the Covid-19 third and fourth waves, frequent load shedding, civil unrest causing 111 of the group’s stores to temporarily close and numerous global supply chain disruptions.”
Mr Price reported that retail sales grew 26% to R26.7 billion during the year, while comparable stores growth exceeded 14%.
Blair said Mr Price faced two tough years in a row and with all the headwinds it looks like the current financial year will be no different.
The response plan is that Mr Price took cover to protect the group against elevated exchange rate, freight rate and other key cost pressures. It hopes that investment in key defensive departments will “hold certain price points”, aiming to preserve margins.
Furniture retailer Lewis reported that merchandise sales increased by 11.5% (to R4.4 billion) in its financial year to end March 2022, supported by strong sales during the Black Friday promotions and high levels of stock availability during a period of significant supply chain disruption.
“After sales in the second and third quarters of the year were impacted by the civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, the group posted sales growth of 7.1% in the fourth quarter to March 2022, driven by the traditional retail brands. Comparable store sales increased by 9.2%,” according to management’s comments.
Johan Enslin, Lewis CEO, noted that “the current challenging retail trading conditions are expected to continue in the short to medium term, with increasing pressure on consumer disposable income through rising interest rates, transport costs, energy and food prices.
“Electricity load shedding will continue to disrupt trade and impact sales patterns. In this constrained environment, management aims to increase market share through innovative marketing strategies, supported by new merchandise ranges across all brands and high levels of stock availability,” said Enslin.
Old challenges replaced with new ones
The comments by retailers indicate that the serious problems of Covid-19 and civil unrest have been replaced by ongoing supply chain issues and higher inflation, but that they expect to keep on growing.
What they are saying is SA consumers will continue to shop.