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Retail Sales Rise In October; Still Below Pre-Covid Levels

Shoppers in street

The ONS has published retail sales data for October 2022, showing a return to growth.

Main points:

  • Retail sales volumes are estimated to have risen by 0.6% in October 2022 following a fall of 1.5% in September (revised from a fall of 1.4%) which was affected by the additional bank holiday for the State Funeral.

  • Sales volumes fell by 2.4% in the three months to October 2022 when compared with the previous three months; this continues the downward trend seen since summer 2021.

  • Increases over the month were seen in all of the main sectors apart from food stores, where sales volumes fell by 1.0% in October 2022, 4.1% below their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) levels in February 2020.

  • Non-food stores sales volumes rose by 1.1% in October 2022 and were 1.7% below February 2020 levels.

  • Automotive fuel sales volumes rose by 3.3% in October 2022, following a fall of 1.2% in September; these were 6.9% below their February 2020 levels.

  • Non-store retailing (predominantly online retailers) sales volumes rose by 1.8% in October 2022 following a fall of 2.5% in September; sales volumes were 21.2% above their February 2020 levels.

  • The proportion of retail sales taking place online was 26.1% in October 2022; this has remained at a broadly consistent level since May 2022.

Note: Estimates for September 2022 were affected by the bank holiday for the State Funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, where some businesses closed or operated differently on that day. This should be considered when interpreting the movement between September and October 2022.


Responding to the latest ONS Retail Sales Index figures, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:

“Rising retail sales continue to mask a fall in volumes, as inflation continued to inflict pain on retailers and consumers alike. There were drops in purchases of household electricals, while key goods such as pharmaceuticals and footwear held up slightly better. Consumer confidence improved slightly as the political turmoil of recent months began to abate. Retailers are hoping sales will pick up a little as the World Cup and festive season approaches, but there is little chance of them catching up with current double-digit inflation.”

Commenting on the Office of National Statistics retail sales index for Oct 2022, Lisa Hooker, Industry Leader for Consumer Markets at PwC, said: 

"While headline retail sales increased slightly in October on both a volume and pound note basis compared with the previous month, this was entirely due to the loss of a trading day in September for the Queen’s funeral.

"Worryingly, on an annual basis, the 2.9% increase in overall retail sales excluding petrol was accounted for by the record inflation that was reported earlier this week. On a volume basis, shoppers were actually buying 6.7% less than last October.

"Supermarkets were particularly hard hit last month, as shoppers bought less, wasted less and traded down to cheaper alternatives in the face of 16.4% inflation, a 45 year high. But, even apart from groceries, non-food sales continued to fall behind pre-pandemic levels as consumers started to cut back as the impact of higher energy and food bills hit and more is spent on second hand goods.

"One saving grace for the high street is the return of shoppers from online into physical stores. The proportion of retail sales online, while higher than before the pandemic, continued to fall back, helped by both the mild weather and a growing preference for physical shopping among younger generations.

"With little over a month to go until Christmas, retailers will be hoping that the picture improves. Particularly compared with the disappointment of last year when the Omicron variant cancelled many festive plans at the last minute. We think there is a good chance of one last hurrah before the tax rises announced in the Autumn Statement hit. For example, shoppers already tell us that they’ll be spending £0.5 billion more in the Black Friday sales next week.

"However, with the country facing the biggest decline in real disposable income since the end of World War II, and continued cost headwinds in the form of higher energy and input costs and National Living Wage increases, there is no question that the retail sector will face unprecedented challenges in 2023."

Source : ONS, BRC, PWC

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18 November 2022

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