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Retail Sales Volumes Decline In September

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The ONS has published retail sales data for September, revealing that sales volumes declined by 0.2% in September 2021, following an upwardly-revised 0.6% fall in August. Despite the fall in September, volumes were 4.2% higher than their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic February 2020 levels.

Retail sales volumes have fallen each month since April 2021 when non-essential retailing re-opened and retail sales reached levels substantially above those before the pandemic. This is the longest period of consecutive monthly falls in the history of this series (which began in February 1996). However, sales remain 4.2% above the level seen before the pandemic (February 2020).

Non-food stores reported a fall of 1.4% in sales volumes in September 2021, because of falls in household goods stores (negative 9.3%), such as furniture and lighting stores, and other non-food stores (negative 1.7%) such as sports equipment stores.

Automotive fuel sales volumes rose by 2.9% in September 2021 as demand towards the end of September increased sales; volumes were 1.8% above their pre-pandemic February 2020 levels.

Food store sales volumes rose by 0.6% in September 2021 and were 3.9% above pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in February 2020.

Despite relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in summer 2021, in-store retail sales remain subdued; the proportion of retail sales online rose to 28.1% in September 2021 from 27.9% in August.  This remains far higher than the proportion of online retail spending in February 2020, before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, of 19.7%, although it is below the peak pandemic level of 36.6% reached in February 2021

Commentary

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said:

“The headline flat retail sales numbers hide a multitude of sins. Not least with September’s spending patterns dominated by the petrol crisis, and the subsequent increase in fuel sales, which diverted attention away from the high street.

“Grocery and clothing sales saw some pick-up as families stocked up ahead of both back-to-school and back-to-the-office. However, most other categories declined slightly, with home and household goods sales actually dipping below pre-February 2020 levels for the first normal trading month since the start of the pandemic.

“Despite September’s slowdown, we are still confident about retail’s prospects ahead of the all-important Golden Quarter in the run-up to Christmas. Consumers still tell us that they have money in their pockets, with our most recent consumer sentiment survey ahead of the 2016-20 levels. Wage increases and lockdown savings should offset any short-term inflationary pressures. And, most importantly, people have told us that they plan to make Christmas more special this year after last year’s lockdowns and tier restrictions.

“In fact, there are already signs that consumers are bringing forward their Christmas present buying plans, due to concerns of product shortages. Online sales have continued to ease back from their lockdown highs. So, high street retailers will have their fingers crossed that October and November exceed expectations - and that they are able to source sufficient stock to meet pent-up demand.”

Source : ONS; PWC

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22 October 2021

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