“In spite of the road blocks that our economy faced, there were several months during 2020 where we saw positive increases in sales.”

This from the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Wayne Furbert, who held a news conference this morning (March 18) to provide “an overview” of the December 2020 Retail Sales Index.

While noting that “total retail stores across the seven sectors represent roughly 70 percent of all retail activity on the Island”, he said: “Our retail sales were slightly down in January at -2.4% in comparison to January 2019.

“But there was an uptick in February and March, with 2.2% and 4.3% recorded respectively, again comparative to the previous year.

“Predictably in March, when we announced the implementation of the health and safety protocols and the shelter in place guidelines, we saw steep declines in the April and May RSI numbers, with -30.1 percent and -13.9 percent respectively.

This was as a result of the closure of our borders; suspension of commercial flights and travel; and the closure of most businesses, hotels, retail stores and restaurants,” said Mr Furbert.

“In June, although the RSI numbers also saw a decrease with -4.8 percent, this was not as significant as the previous months.

“It wasn’t until July that we began seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, with the RSI creeping up to 1.3 percent,” he added.

“By then, through a phased reopening process, we had relaxed some of the COVID-19 regulations, allowed some flights to return to Bermuda, and the resumption of some business activity.

“And since July 2020, Bermuda has experienced six (6) consecutive months of increased retail sales activity when compared to the previous year. This bodes very well for our economy.”

The Minister also noted that “dollars were being spent right here at home due to the fact that residents were not travelling and they were importing goods in record numbers”.

“Residents were taking staycations in our hotels and Airbnb’s; they were spending money on building materials to conduct home renovations; and spending their dollars on big ticket items such as new cars, motorbikes and furniture,” he said.

“Additionally, the streamlined processes implemented by the Government regarding planning applications continued to encourage many building projects to start early, which has helped local businesses and the economy overall.”

Providing a “snapshot” of the Retail Sales Index for December 2020 against that backdrop, he added: “In December, the overall volume of local retail sales increased by 14.2 percent.

“In value terms, retail sales rose 15.3 percent to an estimated $120.4 million.

“This compares to the previous year’s local retail sales which reported a volume decrease of 4.0 percent.

“As I noted, the retail sales growth in December 2020 is the sixth consecutive month of increase as compared to the same month in 2019.

“Of the seven (7) retail sales sectors five (5) sectors experienced positive growth in December 2020.

“This was led by the Liquor Stores, which experienced the largest sales volume increase of 29.0 percent.

“In December 2019, sales volume for Liquor Stores was down by 6.2 percent.

“The total selected overseas declarations increased 22.6 percent in December 2020 compared to December 2019.”

He attributed “the rise in overseas declarations” to “more imports of clothing and pharmaceutical products by courier as well as higher imports of clothing, machinery, appliances, electrical equipment and furniture by sea”.

“The Motor Vehicle Stores sales volume rose by 14.0 percent when compared to 2019 due to a greater number of cars sold.”

On the flip side however, he said there were “some declines however in the December RSI”.

“The Service Stations sector experienced a 4.0 percent decrease. Restricted business hours due to COVID -19 related curfews and residents working from home also impacted sales negatively,” said the Minister.

“Apparel Stores volume sales were down 6.3 percent in December, which reflects the lowest decrease month-to-month in the last 14 months.

“In closing, we recognize that the challenges of the pandemic have severely tested us as a country.

“But I believe that we have a resilient economy.

“We are seeing some encouraging activity with residents supporting our key industries and spending locally.

“I would like to encourage everyone to buy as much locally as possible, as it helps to keep our people employed, it helps to create more jobs, and it helps to stimulate the economy.

“Thanks to the residents of Bermuda for playing a key role in revitalizing our retail sales.”