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UK retail sales hit by slow online shopping and winter storms

UK retail sales tumbled last month as bad weather kept people off the high street. Photo: In pictures via Getty Images

UK retail sales fell an unexpected 0.3% in February as online sales plummeted and bad weather kept people off the high street.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday, sales volumes are well below the 0.6% rise predicted by economists.

Companies that trade primarily online saw a steep 4.8% decline in the month, after strong performances over the festive and New Year period.

However, despite the drop, online volumes in February were still 33.2% higher than their pre-coronavirus levels of February 2020.

UK retail sales fell in February, below expectations.  Map: ONS

UK retail sales fell in February, below expectations. Map: ONS

“Food sales fell with significant declines for liquor and tobacco shops as more consumers went to pubs and restaurants,” said ONS deputy director Heather Bovill. for surveys and economic indicators.

“More socializing as well as many of us returning to work meant a good month for clothes and department stores with people looking to expand their wardrobes.

Sales volumes at non-food stores rose 0.6% last month, with growth of 13.2% in clothing and 1.3% in department stores.

Household goods and many other stores also reported a decline, with comments suggesting stormy weather in February could have impacted sales. The UK was hit by three storms in February, Dudley, Eunice and Franklin.

Read more: UK consumer confidence continues to slide as cost of living crisis deepens

Meanwhile, increased travel after the easing of Plan B restrictions in England at the end of January pushed fuel sales above their pre-pandemic level for the first time. Automotive fuel sales volumes increased 3.6% during the month.

“2022 has had a mixed start for retailers, and things will get tough soon. Although COVID cases have been on the rise again lately, this does not appear to be discouraging consumers from engaging in social consumption activities,” said Martin Beck, Chief Economic Advisor at EY ITEM Club.

“We now expect average inflation to be well over 6% this year and, with this week’s spring statement offering limited support, it is still likely that household finances will be the tightest in over a year. a decade.

“Some households may be able to tap into savings accumulated during the pandemic, but many will not have that luxury. As such, retail demand is expected to come under increasing pressure as we move forward into 2022.”

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PwC’s Lisa Hooker also warned that falling real earnings will hurt retailers in the coming year.

“This week’s inflation figures have seen a sharp rise in food prices, which will inevitably erode consumers’ ability to spend on discretionary items in the future. So rising fashion sales in February, as shoppers searched for new outfits to return to the office, might not last,” she said.

“With Britons set to face the biggest drop in disposable income in recent times, and with limited targeted help from the Chancellor in the recent spring statement, retailers’ annus horribilis could still outpace them.

It comes as consumer confidence continued to fall in March as UK households face a sharp squeeze in the cost of living amid soaring inflation and rising energy prices, food and fuel.

According to GfK’s Consumer Confidence Barometer, consumer confidence in Britain fell another five points to -31 in the month, with all measures down from February.

It was the fourth month in a row that confidence had fallen, falling back to a level last seen in October and November 2020 when COVID numbers were rising.

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