Retail sales stage partial recovery as households prepare for lockdown end

Retail sales volumes recovered slightly in February, but not enough to offset heavy falls a month earlier, new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has suggested.

February saw some positives in the non-food sector
February saw some positives in the non-food sector

Volumes rose 2.1 per cent, but only partially recovered from the 8.2 per cent fall in January, with sales still down 3.7 per cent on a year earlier and before the Covid-19 pandemic impact.

Clothing retailers reported the largest fall – down 50.4 per cent – in sales volumes when compared with February 2020 and petrol stations fell 26.5 per cent as the travel sector took a bad hit.

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By comparison, online retailers continued to enjoy huge gains in customer spend, with 36.1 per cent of all cash spent at retailers going to online operations in February. A year ago the proportion was just 20 per cent .

It set a new record, beating the previous record set in January.

The amount of money spent in retail was also up in February by 2.2 per cent compared with a month earlier, but down 4.4 per cent on the same month a year ago.

February saw some positives in the non-food sector, with the ONS highlighting strong sales volumes in department stores and household goods stores – up 16.2 per cent and 16.1 per cent respectively.

The ONS said it sees budget stores, such as B&M Bargains and Wilko, as department stores which have remained open during the latest lockdown restrictions where bosses have claimed to be essential retailers.

A similar pattern emerged in the first national lockdown in 2020, the ONS said, with those stores seeing falls in sales in March only to recover strongly in April and May as customers took advantage of their continued store presence.

DIY stores also enjoyed continued growth, with some respondents to the ONS survey suggesting strong sales of outdoor furniture in preparation for lockdown restrictions easing as separate households can soon meet in private gardens.