UK retail sales grow for fifth month in a row

Retail sales in the UK have risen for the fifth consecutive month, despite the introduction of the tiered lockdown system, according to the latest figures released by the ONS.

Last month, overall growth in sales volume was up 5.5% compared with February’s pre-pandemic levels. 

In the three months to the end of September, overall retail sales volumes increased by 17.4% compared with the previous three months, which is the biggest quarterly increase on record.

The ONS said online retail figures boosted these latest figures, with 27.5% of sales taking place online compared with 20.1% in February.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The retail recovery remains fragile as the industry enters the all-important Christmas period, with November and December typically accounting for over a fifth of annual sales. 

“While food and online retail continued to show strong growth, high street shopping has struggled in recent months, with footfall still down by over a third. Tighter government restrictions have taken their toll on fashion and beauty sales, while home office and computing equipment has benefitted.”

She added: “Retailers have spent hundreds of millions to make stores Covid-secure and keep staff and customers safe. Furthermore, they are encouraging the public to shop early for Christmas and prevent the last minute rush, so that everyone – from shoppers to warehouse workers – have the space they need to stay safe and well. 

“Retail has proven itself to be a responsible industry during this pandemic, and the government should not risk the retail recovery by closing stores during the all-important run up to Christmas.”

Karen Johnson, head of Retail and Wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said: “Whilst we might be entering the colder months of the year, this latest set of results suggests the UK retail market is yet to feel the chill. 

Consumer demand has driven an increase in retail spending, and online channels have been the biggest beneficiary of this – as local restrictions due to the pandemic mean more and more people are choosing to shop remotely.”

She added: “Looking ahead, we can also expect to see an acceleration in typical timelines for festive shopping. 

“Concerns about further lockdowns, stock levels and the availability of popular items will all serve to drive consumer spending patterns – and many in the industry now predict that October and November could be the peak months for winter retail.”

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