British retail sales fall unexpectedly in February


British retail sales unexpectedly fell in February as the reopening of the economy prompted consumers to eat and drink out rather than shop for groceries at home while storms kept shoppers away too.

The volume of sales in Great Britain fell 0.3 per cent between January and February, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday, a swing from the 0.6 per cent expansion forecast in a Reuters poll. The figure was down sharply from 1.9 per cent rise in the previous month.

The figures show the shrinking value of money as inflation pinched the money in their wallets. In February shoppers spent 0.7 per cent more than in the previous month, but bought 0.3 per cent fewer goods, ONS data showed. Inflation, at a 30-year high, is set to accelerate as energy prices surge.

Food sales dipped by 0.2 per cent, with significant falls for alcohol and tobacco stores as more consumers went out to pubs and restaurants.

“More socializing as well as many of us returning to the workplace meant a good month for clothing and department stores with people looking to expand their wardrobes,” said Heather Bovill, the ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators. Sales volumes in non-food stores rose 0.6 per cent last month with strong growth in clothing.

Line chart of Retail sales volume, Feb 2020 = 100 showing British retail sales fell back in February

Household goods and many other stores reported a drop in sales, with feedback suggesting February’s stormy weather could have had an impact.

Increased travel following the lifting of England coronavirus restrictions at the end of January drove fuel sales above their pre-pandemic level for the first time. They rose 3.6 per cent.

The proportion of retail sales online fell to 28 per cent in February 2022, its lowest proportion since March 2020, but remains above pre-pandemic levels.



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