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Home Improvement Spend Helped Boost February Retail Sales

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The ONS has published retail sales data for February, covering the four-week period 31 January 2021 to 27 February 2021.

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Main Points

  • Retail sales volumes only partly recovered in February 2021 with an increase of 2.1% when compared with the 8.2% fall seen in the previous month, and sales were still down by 3.7% on a year earlier before the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

  • Non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in February 2021 sales volumes, aided by strong increases of 16.2% and 16.1% in department stores and household goods stores respectively.

  • Clothing retailers reported the largest fall, of 50.4%, in sales volumes when compared with February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic; automotive fuel stores also reported a large annual decline of 26.5% as travel restrictions continued to hit sales in that sector.

  • In the three months to February 2021, retail sales volume fell by 6.3% when compared with the previous three months, with strong declines in both clothing stores and other non-food stores.

  • The proportion spent online increased to 36.1% in February 2021, the highest on record; this compares with 35.2% in January 2021 and 20.0% reported in February 2020.

The increase in department stores comes predominantly from budget department stores that were able to keep their physical stores open during the restrictions because of selling a mix of food and other essential items. A similar pattern was witnessed during the first lockdown in spring 2020 when volume sales for department stores fell by 24.1% in April 2020 but rebounded in May with growth of 13.2% as consumers took advantage of their continued store presence.

Anecdotal evidence from household goods stores suggested that the monthly growth of 16.1% in February 2021 could be attributed to the purchase of DIY products as consumers continue to improve their homes during lockdown. Retailers also noted that there was evidence of consumers buying outdoor products earlier in preparation for the easing of lockdown restrictions particularly the ability to meet friends and relatives in private gardens as the weather improves.

Department stores also saw a significant monthly increase of 14.8%. Other non-food stores was the only sector to see a decline in online sales on the month; falling 1.5%.

The household goods sector initially witnessed a severe fall in the volume of sales during the early coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic period. Sales declined rapidly in March and April 2020, with consecutive monthly falls of 9.1% and 45.9%.

There then followed seven consecutive months of growth taking the levels of sales above those observed before the pandemic. 

Restrictions in several parts of the country were reintroduced in November 2020 leading to a slowdown in the sector, with a monthly increase of only 0.5% before monthly declines of 2.3% and 18.8% in December 2020 and January 2021 respectively.

Source : ONS

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26 March 2021

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