ONS: Retail sales fell in February for fourth consecutive month 

In the three months to February 2020, the quantity bought in retail sales fell for the fourth consecutive month by 0.6%, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) Retail Sales data.

The decline was seen across all stores except non-store retailing.

In February 2020, the monthly growth rate in the quantity bought fell by 0.3%, with a range of retailers providing feedback on the adverse effect of the extreme rainfall on sales.

When compared with the same month a year earlier, February 2020 remained flat; the lowest year-on-year growth rate since March 2013 at -1.6%.

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing was 19.6% in February 2020, up from the 19.1% reported in January 2020.

The data collection for the period was completed by 29 February and is largely unaffected by recent developments with the coronavirus; however, a small number of retailers suggested that online orders shipped from China were reduced because of the impact of COVID-19.

In the three months to February 2020, both the amount spent and the quantity bought in the retail industry fell by 0.1% and 0.6% respectively when compared with the previous three months.

The monthly picture was also one of decline at -0.5% and -0.3% for the amount spent and the quantity bought respectively.

When compared with a year earlier, the amount spent increased by 0.7%, while the quantity bought remained flat; the lowest year-on-year growth in the quantity bought since March 2013.

In contrast to the stronger rate of growth seen at the beginning of the series, there has been a slowdown in the quantity bought since June 2019 and successive declines in the three-month on three-month movement from November 2019. The quantity bought in February 2020 when compared with the previous three months fell by 0.6%.

The volatile monthly movement in February 2020 shows a fall of 0.3% following growth of 1.1% in January.

Euan Murray, relationship director, Barclays Corporate Banking, Scotland, commented: “Turbulent weather meant turbulent times for UK retailers in February, with three weekends of heavy storms limiting both the ability and appetite of consumers to go out and spend.

“Looking further ahead, spring weather was supposed to provide a breath of fresh air for UK retail, but the emergence of the Covid-19 public health emergency will have quashed any chance of a springtime bounce back. Consumers are now focussing on securing the essentials that they need on a day-to-day basis, so luxury items – including those usually purchased for holidays abroad – fall way down the agenda.

“There is potentially light at the end of the tunnel for retailers, given the extent to which people are ready and willing to spend online. However, consumer nervousness is still understandably widespread – so the extent to which online channels can compensate for lost high-street spending is yet to be seen.”

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