UK retail sales rose in January, but challenges remained
UK retail sales growth was better than expected last month, official stats revealed on Friday. The Office for National Statistics said the sector fought back and recovered almost half the losses it had endured in December when the Omicron variant had almost derailed festive season shopping.
January retail sales volumes were up 1.9% month-on-month after a 4% drop in December. And they were 3.6% above their pre-Covid February 2020 levels. Volumes rose 9.1% year-on-year, although the comparison with January 2020 isn’t very helpful given that the UK was in lockdown back then.
Retail sales by value were up 2% on the month, 9.1% compared to pre-Covid and 16.5% on the year — all of it suggesting that inflation is having an effect. That’s because January is a month when value rises would usually be more muted due to clearance sales and other post-Christmas promotions.
Non-food stores’ sales volumes rose by 3.4% month-on-month as home improvement sales volumes picked up with increased sales in household goods and garden centres. But they were 1.1% below their February 2020 levels.
The proportion of retail sales online fell to 25.3%, its lowest proportion since March 2020 (22.7%), continuing a broad downward trend since its peak in February 2021 (36.5%). Despite its downward trend, the percentage of retail sales made online was still higher than before the pandemic (19.8% in February 2020).
The importance of online was also clear from the fact that some retailers — particularly clothing stores with little online presence — have found it hard to recover from repeated lockdowns and continue to struggle.
Overall, clothing stores reported a fall of 5% month-on-month and were 12.6% below levels in February 2020. This may be linked to less discounting in January 2022 compared with other years, the ONS said.
And it added that while department stores reported a monthly increase of 7.1% in sales volumes, they remained 8% below their February 2020 levels.
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