UK retail sales attempt recovery from lockdown slump

LONDON (AFP) – British retail sales recovered somewhat in February, helped by demand for home improvements and garden items from locked-down consumers, official data showed yesterday.

Sales by volume rose 2.1 per cent in February from January, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

The ONS noted that sales “only partly recovered” last month after an 8.2 per cent slump in January on the back of England’s third round of virus curbs.

Sales of household goods jumped 16.1 per cent in February.

“Anecdotal evidence from household goods stores suggested that the monthly growth… could be attributed to the purchase of do-it-yourself (DIY) products as consumers continue to improve their homes during lockdown,” the ONS said.

“Retailers also noted that there was evidence of consumers buying outdoor products earlier in preparation for the easing of lockdown restrictions particularly the ability to meet friends and relatives in private gardens as the weather improves.”

A shop sells face masks on Oxford Street in London. PHOTO: AP

Nevertheless, overall sales remain 3.7 per cent lower than the same month a year earlier, just before the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of the United Kingdom (UK) re-entered lockdown in early January to curb a more transmissible variant COVID strain, shuttering swathes of the economy including non-essential retail.

As a result, clothing sales suffered the largest slump in February, with volumes down 50.4 per cent compared with a year earlier.

Petrol station sales, meanwhile, tanked 26.5 per cent as the travel sector was also badly hit.

However, online sales continued to boom last month as consumers were forced to shop via their smartphones and computer screens.

Online accounted for a record 36.1 per cent of all retail sales in February.

That beat the previous record of 35.2 per cent in January, and contrasted with 20 per cent in February 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is aiming for a phased exit from current lockdown restrictions and has targetted April 12 for when England’s non-essential businesses can begin to re-open.