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High Street

Sales fall 3.1% in Feb despite record online sales

February is now the third straight month of negative total like-for-like sales, marking the second worst result since August last year, behind only January 2021

Shuttered high street shops contributed to a 3.1% decline in total like-for-like sales in February but fashion and homeware helped drive online sales to a record high, new figures from accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP reveal.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST), total like-for-like (LFL) sales, combined in-store and online, fell by –3.1% in February from a base of -0.5% for the equivalent month last year.

Online sales, however, climbed to record highs, surging by 167.3% and overriding last month’s record.

BDO also revealed that even more significantly than in January, online sales propped up total like-for-like sales while in-store revenues “continued to languish” amidst lockdown.

Nonetheless, February is now the third straight month of negative total like-for-like sales, marking the second worst result since August last year, behind only January 2021.

Total lifestyle like-for-like sales plunged by –15.6% in February from a negative base of -2.5% for the same month last year. This result marked three consecutive negative months for the sector.

Fashion total like-for-like sales shrank by –3.6% this month from a flat base of +0.4% for February last year. While the sector continued its negative run for the twelfth straight month, this month’s result was the best performance during that run having recorded two weeks of growth mid-February.

However, homeware continued its positive run with total like-for-like sales increasing by 32.2%, from a base of -2.5% for the equivalent month last year. The result marks ten consecutive months of positive sales for total homewares after the category recorded strong results in each week of February.

Sophie Michael, head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “As we mark a year of COVID’s impact on retail and the wider economy, we’ve seen total retail sales decline by around -8% on average each month.

“Obviously, there is still a long road ahead but with shops looking at reopening there were a few positive signs this month. Consumer confidence improved slightly, probably thanks to the vaccine roll-out, and the fashion sector had its best result in months as shoppers eyed the end of lockdown.”

She added: ““Retailers will have welcomed a number of this week’s Budget measures, notably the announcement of further business rates relief, restart grants and loans and the extension to the furlough scheme. A key part of driving forward the UK’s economic recovery is likely to come from unlocking consumer spending. To enable this, the retail sector needs to reopen successfully and quickly and the government’s continued support will be vital to making this happen.”

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