Retail sales rose by 2.1% in February
The retail sector was handed a boost in February as people spent money on garden furniture and improving their homes ahead of the return of outdoor socialising.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that despite the recovery, the 8.2% dip in January kept retail sales below the figure of 12 months ago, and said that they would have fallen again if not for online sales at department stores.
Economists had predicted a more modest annual fall of 3.5%.
Jonathan Athow, the deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said: “Despite national restrictions, retail sales partially recovered from the hit they took in January.”
“Food and department stores benefited 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.”
While Danni Hewson, financial analyst at AJ Bell, commented on the mood of the country as well as the wider economic outlook:
“The tantalising prospect of being able to share a garden with friends and family has helped bump retail sales up slightly after the January slump,” Hewson said.
“Household goods sales were up 16% mainly thanks to purchases of outdoor products as gardens get a makeover ahead of lockdown restrictions easing. Unsurprisingly online sales from those retailers received the biggest boost, a record monthly bump for the sector of almost 36%.”
“And that’s repeated across the board with the amount people are spending online at a record high of 36.1%. Compare that share with the 20% enjoyed the previous February and it reinforces what all retailers know in their bones, lockdown has sped up already changing habits.”
“The decision by John Lewis to close a further eight stores indicates they don’t expect that trend to reverse. But all retailers will take comfort in these figures. Consumers clearly want to spend, they just need the right conditions; a fine sunny spring would undoubtedly help that along.”