Retail sales begin to recover in February

Overall, sales remained down by 3.7% compared to last year however, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic

Retail sales volumes witnessed a partial recovery in February with an increase of 2.1% when compared with the 8.2% fall seen in the previous month, according to the latest figures from the ONS.

In total, sales were still down by 3.7% against last year before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the proportion spent online dramatically rose 36.1% in February, making it the highest on record.

Non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in sales volumes over the period, bolstered by strong increases of 16.2% and 16.1% in department stores and household goods stores respectively.

Clothing retailers still suffered in the period, however, reporting the largest fall of sales volumes at 50.4%.

Automotive fuel stores also reported a large annual decline of 26.5% as travel restrictions continued to hit sales in that sector.

During the three months to February 2021, retail sales volumes dropped by 6.3% in comparison to the previous quarter, with the ONS again reporting strong declines in clothing and other non-food stores.

In addition, the reintroduction of lockdown restrictions in November led to an economic “slowdown” in retail, with a monthly increase of only 0.5% before monthly declines of 2.3% and 18.8% in December 2020 and January 2021.

Responding to the ONS figures, Jacqui Baker, RSM’s Retail Director, said: “February retail sales failed to release much of the savings the nation has built up during lockdown with growth remaining stunted. Online continued to dominate the proportion of sales and with the nation stuck at home, homeware and DIY sales continued to perform strongly.

“With key social events including Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day all taking place at home the food sector has performed well in the three months to February and was also up on the year.”

“I expect more positive news for retailers in March following the Prime Minister’s roadmap and news of half of all UK adults now having received their first vaccine dose. Already this positivity is translating into increased footfall on highstreets despite the continued closure of all non-essential stores.

“A boost to sales in March must surely follow as consumers prepare for their release in April. Hopefully bringing some much needed spend to clothing and accessories.”

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