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26 Mar 2021 | 07:01

Retail sales recovery partly in February after lockdown slump

(Sharecast News) - UK retail sales recovered partly in February, according to figures released on Friday by the Office for National Statistics, following a big fall at the start of the third national lockdown in January. Retail sales rose 2.1% on the month in February, in line with consensus expectations and compared to an 8.2% slump the month before. Nevertheless, sales were still down 3.7% compared to February last year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit. This compares to a 5.9% slide in January and expectations for a 3.5% decline.

The ONS said non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to monthly growth, with increases of 16.2% and 16.1% in department stores and household goods stores respectively. Clothing retailers reported the largest fall in sales volumes when compared to last February, down 50.4%.

The proportion spent online rose to a record 36.1% in February. This compares with 35.2% in January and 20% in February 2020.

ONS deputy national statistician for Economic Statistics, Jonathan Athow, said: "Despite national restrictions, retail sales partially recovered from the hit they took in January.

"Food and department stores benefitted from essential retail remaining open with budget-end department stores seeing increased sales. Household goods also fared well, with feedback suggesting spending on home improvement and outdoor products boosted sales as consumers prepared for an easing of lockdown restrictions. However, clothing stores continue to struggle with sales down more than half on their pre-pandemic level.

"The share of online sales increased to a record high reflecting the impact the pandemic has had on consumer spending."

ING economist James Smith said: "Things will improve when shops are allowed to reopen in April, though a greater consumer focus on services and the trend towards online shopping means the headwinds for traditional high-street retailers are building."

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