SINGAPORE (June 5): Singapore’s total retail sales value plummeted 40.5% year-on-year in April, following the imposition of the ‘circuit breaker’ measures on April 7, which restricted the operations of non-essential services to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

This marks the largest decline in the metric since its adoption in 1986. It is also a significant deepening from the 13.3% decline registered in March, according to the data released by the Department of Statistics (Singstat) on Friday.

Consumer-facing sectors took the greatest hit, with takings for watches and jewellery (-87.8%), wearing apparel and footwear (-85.3%) and department stores (-84.6%) registering significant declines.

Other top declining industries in April include optical goods and books (-64.5%), recreational goods (-63.4%) and cosmetics, toiletries and medical goods (-46.2%). This comes from a combination of the closure of physical stores and households tightening their purse strings on the back of a weaker economic outlook.

The sale of food and beverage services, which fell 53%, showed a similar trend. This is a significant deepening from the -39.1% registered in March and comes as these establishments only offered takeaway or delivery options.

Similarly, motor vehicle sales narrowed to a 77% decline, as the certificate of entitlement (COE) bidding exercise was suspended. Typically, there are two bidding exercises per month. Sales were also affected from the closure of motor vehicle dealerships and showrooms.

As such, excluding motor vehicles, the retail sales index was down 32.8%, Singstat notes.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, the index dipped 31.7%, but eased to 26% including motor vehicle sales. Of this, 17.8% came from online sales, shares Singstat.

Interestingly, the highest share of online sales came from computer and telecommunications equipment, where digital sales made up some 70.6% of the total takings for that industry. This comes as people sourced for IT gadgets to equip themselves to work from home and prepare their children for home-based learning.

The supermarkets and hypermarkets segment was the only industry to buck the downward trend, as it soared 74.6% from the high demand for groceries as more people stayed home.

Likewise, takings at minimarts and convenience stores rose 10.7% as they remained open to cater to the essential needs of residents.

However, this increase was not extended to other food services such as caterers and restaurants which saw takings of -66.9% and -59.8% respectively. 

Collectively, this saw the value of food & beverage services plunging 53.0% to $397 million. Of this amount, 39.2% comes from online sales as more consumers turned to mobile apps to purchase groceries and cooked food. 

Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, expects the high level of online sales to continue in May due to the extension of the circuit breaker measures to end on June 1. "Hopefully, we will see some tentative signs of stabilisation from 3Q20," she muses.

"Since retail shops and restaurant dining in options are still off the table for now in the Phase 1 after the lifting of the Circuit Breaker from 2 June, retail sales may not fully normalise yet but may only gradually start to recover from Phase 2," she adds.

As such, Ling expects retail sales for the year to contract 9.5% - more than thrice the -2.8% registered in 2019.