Spending on home improvement and patio furniture in February, in preparation for the restart of outdoor socializing in England next week, helped the retail sector make a modest return during the UK’s third lockdown.
Retail sales rose 2.1% in February from the previous month, but Main Street continued to struggle as all non-essential stores were forced to remain closed.
The Office for National Statistics said the partial recovery, after falling 8.2% in January, kept retail sales 3.7% lower than a year earlier and qu ‘they would have fallen further without a rebound in sales at hardware and DIY stores, garden furniture and household goods retailers.
With many store owners, and especially those relying on high street sales, under severe financial pressure, the numbers show that online retailers have benefited. Almost 38% of retail sales were made online, up 4.6% from January and almost double the level of a year ago.
On March 29, the rule of six returns after 12 weeks, allowing people from all over England to congregate to a maximum of six. Limited contact between different households will be allowed and many outdoor activities, such as golf and tennis, may resume.
Families with access to a garden are expected to take advantage of the hoped-for warm Easter weather to reunite for the first time since November.
Household goods sales rose more than 16% from January, while discount stores – such as B&M and Home Bargains – most of which remained open selling a mix of food and household items. , have increased by the same amount.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said: “Despite the national restrictions, retail sales have partially recovered from the blow they suffered in January.
“Grocery stores and department stores benefited from the continued opening of essential retail stores, while budget department stores saw sales increase.
Housewares also performed well, with comments suggesting spending on home improvement and outdoor products boosted sales as consumers braced for an easing of lockdown restrictions.
“However, clothing stores continue to struggle, with sales down more than half of their pre-pandemic level.”
Analysts said the drop matched inflation data released earlier in the week, which showed fashion stores slashed prices again in February after a sharp drop in sales in January.
James Smith, economist at ING, said: “With the country still on lockdown, none of this is too surprising, and it’s worth saying that overall sales are only down about 4% from at pre-virus levels, a marked improvement over what we saw last spring.
“Experience with lockdowns also tells us that it will likely only take a few weeks for sales to return to – or surpass – pre-virus levels once stores reopen.”
Lynda Petherick, head of retail at Accenture UKI, said figures for February showed there were early signs of clearer days for retailers.
“However, we are still a long way from recovering numbers compared to the same period last year. With the date for non-essential stores to reopen in April still relevant, retailers will be planning how to make the most of pent-up consumer demand this spring and beyond.
The impact of the UK’s third foreclosure on the economy has not been as severe as the 22% drop in the first foreclosure last April after most UK employers adapted to working online.
ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said the shift to online shopping before the pandemic to a level never seen in any other major OECD country meant the UK economy had shown itself to be more resilient during government lockdowns.
The government is expected to allow all non-essential stores in England to open on April 12, as part of its policy of gradually opening up the economy by June. The governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland plan to reopen on a different schedule, albeit on a similar path.