Standstill for Britain’s retail sales in February, says ONS

26 Mar 2020

Retail sales in the UK came to a halt last month, in their weakest performance in close to seven years.

This is according to official figures released on Thursday, before the predicted largest drop in sales in more than 10 years due to shutdowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales volumes stayed flat during February, compared to the same time last year, following 0.9% growth in January, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is the first time that sales have not increased since March 2013, when the UK was hit by heavy snowfall, the worst in three decades, and under economists’ predictions in a Reuters survey for annual growth to remain largely steady at 0.8%.

The outlook for retailers in Britain looks particularly gloomy, especially outside the food sector which has seen a short-term rise in demand as shoppers stockpiled goods due to mounting movement restrictions, Reuters reports.

Earlier this week, on Monday, the government ordered all non-essential shops to close to the public. Supermarkets are still open to the public and certain online retail stores remain open for the time being.

Thomas Pugh, economist at consultancy Capital Economics commented: “People should brace for an eye-watering fall in retail sales in the region of 30% month-on-month in April.

“Retail sales may be flat in March as exceptionally strong food sales offset weakness elsewhere,” he went on to add.

On Wednesday, the Confederation of British Industry reported that UK retailers forecast the largest decline in sales since April 2009 next month. This is according to a survey carried out by the Confederation before the latest store shutdowns because of the pandemic.

The Office for National Statistics said that just in February, sales fell by 0.3%, following a 1.1% rise the month before, because of particularly poor weather and flooding in certain parts of the country.

According to ONS statistician Rhian Murphy: “A small number of retailers also said that the impact of the coronavirus had affected sales of goods shipped from China.”


Read the latest news update: Trump’s pivotal role at the G20 summit