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Could these cheap FTSE 100 stocks be the best UK shares to buy now?

We all know that the coronavirus pandemic caused high street retailers in Britain to close their physical stores as the nation was placed under lockdown. Consequently, listed retailers in the FTSE 100 watched their share prices tumble over fears surrounding the future of the underlying businesses. However, with lockdown restrictions beginning to ease up and stores starting to reopen their doors, could FTSE 100 retailers be the best UK shares to buy ahead of a potentially swift economic recovery?

British fashion retailers JD Sports (LSE: JD) and Next (LSE: NXT) have had a tough time over the past few months. Both saw their share prices fall by considerable amounts in the depths of the market crash, tumbling by 66% and 52% respectively. This comes as no surprise given the closure of all stores combined with worries over the long-term future of the high street.

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Thankfully, both firms have a strong online presence which, to a certain extent, has enabled sales to keep ticking over. That said, online sales alone were by no means enough to keep overall sales close to pre-pandemic levels.

FTSE 100 stars

Since the beginning of 2013, the JD Sports share price has skyrocketed by 1,785% to date. Prior to the sell-off, that figure was a staggering 2,482%! The sports fashion retailer’s growth is testament to its stellar business strategy and reputation. The company has firmly established its position in the market as the nation’s go-to trainer store. Additionally, in my view, the coronavirus won’t have affected JD’s business negatively long term. I think shoppers are likely to return, boosting the business in the process.

And Next? A recent trading update released by the firm revealed the extent of the financial damage caused by Covid-19. Total full-price sales fell by 38%, with retail store sales down by 52% and online sales down by 32%. Yet despite a meaningful debt pile, the company maintains a relatively healthy balance sheet. This should ensure its ability to overcome weak sales in the short run. Thanks to the company’s importance as a major online retailer, Next should weather the storm comfortably in my view.

The future of retail

So are they both buys, in my eyes? One of my concerns involves the extent to which consumer spending may be affected by the pandemic. It’s deemed unlikely that shoppers will make a quick return to the high street in pre-pandemic numbers — bad news for both retailers. That said, an article published in the Financial Times on Monday reported that: “Eager shoppers queued early outside some stores on London’s Oxford Street”, an anecdotal but nonetheless positive sign that consumers are still willing to spend.

Nevertheless, Covid-19 undoubtedly posed an unprecedented challenge for retailers. With the sector already in a state of decline, there are legitimate fears that the pandemic could speed up the process. For this reason, I’d limit my investments to retailers with a strong online presence. For that reason, both companies satisfy my criteria and more. Both are market leaders with a powerful online presence.

Ultimately, the depressed share prices of these FTSE 100 retailers may signal significant value. Provided the economy continues to make a swift recovery, there may never be a better time to buy shares in JD Sports and Next. With that in mind, I feel these FTSE 100 retailers may truly be among the best UK shares to buy now.

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Matthew Dumigan has no position in any of the shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of Next. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.