Swedish apparel sales tumble even as stores spared coronavirus lockdown

STOCKHOLM, April 9 (Reuters) - Swedish store and online apparel sales fell 39% in March from a year ago even as the country’s liberal approach to fighting the outbreak of the novel coronavirus allowed retailers to remain open for business, trade data showed on Thursday.

Unlike many European countries, Sweden’s stores, restaurants and most schools have remained open, and while authorities urge social distancing and advise those who can to work from home and not travel, this is not legally binding.

Still, with a ban on large public gatherings, a steep slowdown in overall business activity and wariness of contagion among consumers, footfall at apparel stores has plunged all the same, leaving many retailers struggling to survive.

“The effects of the coronavirus had a significant impact on development throughout March,” the Swedish Trade Federation said in a statement.

On March 11, Sweden’s health authority issued its first warning of community spread of the novel coronavirus and the government banned public gatherings of more than 500 people. In the remainder of the month, apparel sales fell 57%, it said.

“E-commerce did slightly better (than brick-and-mortar stores), but it doesn’t make up for the overall loss of sales by a far cry. The corona crisis creates great concern in society that causes people to stay at home, but also to hold on to their money,” the federation said.

Swedish H&M has said it will make its first loss in many decades in March through May, its fiscal second quarter. (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Niklas Pollard)