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ONS: Retail Sales Volumes And Values Flat In March

William Barton / shutterstock / 753265135

The ONS has published retail sales data for March, covering the period 25 February 2024 to 30 March 2024.

Key points:

  • March 2024 continued the steady trend seen in February 2024, as both sales values (amount spent) and volumes saw no change on the month (0.0%).

  • Volumes rose 0.8% over the year to March 2024, while remaining 1.2% below their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic level in February 2020.

  • Within retail, sales were mixed, with automotive fuel and non-food stores sales volumes rising by 3.2% and 0.5%, respectively. This was offset by falls in food stores and non-store retailers of 0.7% and 1.5%.

  • Looking at the quarter, sales volumes increased by 1.9% in the three months to March 2024 when compared with the previous three months. This was following low sales volumes over the Christmas period for retailers.

  • Automotive fuel sales volumes rose in March 2024 to reach their highest index level since May 2022. Retailers reported that this rise was linked to increased footfall on their forecourts.


  • Non-food stores sales volumes (the total of department, clothing, household and other non-food stores) rose by 0.5% over the month, with increased footfall reported by some retailers. This is consistent with the rise in footfall on the high street, as seen in the national retail footfall data in our Economic activity and social change in the UK, real-time indicators bulletin. Rises were seen in secondhand goods stores (which includes antiques and auction houses), hardware and furniture stores, and clothing stores.

  • Offsetting these rises, department stores, food stores and non-store retailing sales volumes all fell over the month with retailers suggesting that increased prices were affecting consumer spending habits.


  • The amount spent online, known as online spending values, rose by 0.1% over the month to March 2024, and by 1.7% over the year.

  • As total spend showed no growth on the month, the 0.1% rise in the amount spent online increased the proportion of sales made online, from 25.8% in February 2024 (revised from 25.7%) to 25.9% in March 2024. 


Commenting on the latest ONS inflation data for March 2024, Lisa Hooker, PwC Leader of Industry for Consumer Markets states:

"March’s retail sales figures should always be taken with a pinch of salt, as the ONS attempts to adjust for the impact of an earlier Easter. Following February's slowdown, which has been adjusted upwards, official figures suggest that March sales volumes were flat.

Grocery fell back slightly according to today’s figures. While supermarkets benefitted from the earlier Easter, the slighter warmer weather and additional bank holidays encouraged more consumers back to hospitality with stronger restaurant and pub performance. Easter chocolate sales were subdued with the impact of chocolate price inflation and new health regulations meaning promotional displays had to be less prominent in stores.

Online penetration was also flat, with the wet weather easing and more shoppers venturing back to high streets and covered shopping centres, with higher footfall over the bank holiday weekend.

What is clear is that the first quarter of the year has been disappointing for many retailers. Lower inflation and the first 2% cut to National Insurance which was felt in January’s pay packets has yet to translate into a sustained recovery in spending.

Going forward, we are optimistic that the picture will improve from April onwards, particularly if inflation hits the Bank of England’s 2% target as many economists predict. The psychological impact of that, combined with rises in National Living Wage, state pension and benefits, plus the second cut in National Insurance, might provide weary consumers with the fillip they need to start spending again, after a decidedly slow start to 2024."

Source : ONS; PwC

Image : William Barton / shutterstock / 753265135 

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19 April 2024

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