Oct 22, 2021
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UK retail sales dipped last month, but fashion stays positive

Oct 22, 2021

UK retail sales failed to impress last month, official figures showed on Friday, but the under-pressure fashion sector came out of it relatively well compared to other product sectors.

Photo: Pixabay/Public domain

Total retail sales volumes fell 0.2% in September compared to August, following an upwardly-revised 0.6% fall in August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed. Retail sales values (excluding petrol) were down 0.4%.

Sales volumes have fallen each month since April. This is the longest period of consecutive monthly falls in the history of this series (which began in February 1996). 

That said, despite the fall, volumes were actually 4.2% higher than their pre-coronavirus pandemic February 2020 levels and 6.2% up by value, which was a crumb of comfort for hard-pressed retailers.

Year-on-year sales volumes fell 1.3% but values rose 2.3%, although inflation (currently over 3%) would have wiped out any gain for retailers here.

Non-food stores reported a fall of 1.4% in sales volumes in September, because of falls in household goods stores (which were down as much as 9.3%), while other non-food stores were down only 1.7%.

But clothing and department stores reported an increase in month-on-month sales volume of 4.3% and 0.2%, respectively. This was god news, even though sales volumes were 5.5% and 5.1% below their pre-pandemic February levels.

Online continues to be a key channel post-lockdowns but the spectacular growth seen earlier isn’t being repeated. Month-on-month online sales values rose 0.5% but year-on-year they were down 2.3%.

They made up 28.1% of total retail sales, compared to 19.7% in February 2020 just before the pandemic and 36.6% a year ago. That February 2020 comparison shows how online shopping has now become a habit for many consumers, but the year-on-year figure highlights how shoppers are also happy to go back to physical stores now that they can.

Department store online sales rose 3.8% compared to August but fell 15.3% year-on-year, again, because their stores now being open will have dented webstore turnover.

Textile, clothing and footwear stores were down 1.9% on the month but up 5.9% on the year.

Despite fashion coming out of the month quite well, Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive at New West End Company, which represents 600 West End businesses, was clearly disappointed at the headline news. 

“After such a challenging year, we are disheartened to see that retail sales are down, indicating that a gradual return to normality is still far from reach for retailers across the country,” he said. “We hope a busy upcoming Christmas period will offer some confidence to West End businesses as they gradually recover sales.

“If retail sales are to grow, we require more support. We rely heavily on overseas visitors to spend in the West End and maintain appeal for global brands. But we are currently at a major disadvantage, compared to other destinations such as Paris, to entice overseas visitors back to the capital.

"We are therefore calling on the Government to explore a simplified visa process and review the restrictive Sunday Trading hours policy. Now is the time to give retailers and visitors alike more freedom as this announcement is clear evidence that we are still far behind where we need to be.”

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