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UK retail sales rise for fourth consecutive month

August saw retail sales volumes increase by 0.8% when compared with July, marking the fourth consecutive month of growth.

According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), this resulted in an increase of 4% when compared with February’s pre-pandemic level of sales.

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The value of retail sales also increased by 0.7%, which was 2.5% higher than the value of sales in February.  

When compared with the previous three months, a stronger rate of growth was seen in the three months to August, at 16.4% and 16.7% for value and volume sales respectively. 

Strong growth was seen here because of large monthly increases in June and July when compared with the sharp falls experienced over lockdown in March and April, according to the ONS.

It added there was a “mixed picture” across different store types, as non-store retailing volumes were 38.9% above February, while clothing stores were still 15.9% below February’s pre-pandemic levels.

DIY sales continued to rise as more people spent on home improvements. Hardware, paints and glass stores saw August sales up by 12.9% against february, for example. 

Some 51.5% of food stores reported a decrease in footfall from 10 to 23 August, however, the ONS said this may been down to other parts of the economy reopening, such as restaurants and bars. 

Meanwhile, online retail sales fell by 2.5% in August when compared with July, but the “strong” online growth experienced over the pandemic meant that sales were still 46.8% higher than February’s pre-pandemic levels.

Mona Bitar, EY UK&I consumer leader, said: “It’s encouraging to see healthier retail sales data. Consumers are tentatively gaining more confidence returning to the shops and online sales continue to show their strength – clearly some pandemic habits are sticking. 

“Despite this more positive news, it is clear that retailers are not out of the woods yet. Their real challenge now is to examine how they link physical shopping to the online experience – providing a single, seamless customer journey.” 

She added: “The shift online has resulted in many operational difficulties for retailers, and for most it has come at a cost. How to turn the online demand into profitable growth will be the holy grail.

“To succeed in the next phase of recovery, retailers have to learn how to use the data they have to better understand their customers and tailor products and experiences to their needs. The velocity in demand will only continue and retailers need to have the systems in place to thrive.”

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