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DIY and garden furniture prop up retail figures

Written by: Emma Lunn
Retail sales volumes partly recovered in February 2021 with an increase of 2.1%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is in comparison to the 8.2% fall seen in the previous month. Sales were still down by 3.7% on a year earlier before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in February 2021 sales volumes, aided by strong increases of 16.2% and 16.1% in department stores and household goods stores respectively.

Clothing retailers reported the largest fall, of 50.4%, in sales volumes when compared with February 2020. Automotive fuel stores also reported a large annual decline of 26.5% as travel restrictions continued to hit sales in that sector.

In the three months to February 2021, retail sales volume fell by 6.3% when compared with the previous three months, with strong declines in both clothing stores and other non-food stores.

The proportion spent online increased to 36.1% in February 2021, the highest on record. This compares with 35.2% in January 2021 and 20% reported in February 2020.

Danni Hewson, financial analyst at AJ Bell, said: “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.

“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.”

Maddy Alexander-Grout, founder of discount scheme MyVIPCard, said: “A quarter of the small retail businesses we surveyed in February said they are on ‘borrowed time’ and fighting to survive.

“Even when things return to a relative normal, things will be far from normal as so many smaller retailers will be paying off the debts they have accrued and loans they have taken out during the pandemic for many years to come.

“The latest national lockdowns have either stopped them being able to trade completely or the impact has been so severe that they aren’t even covering costs. Small retailers are doing everything they can to hang on in there but on top of the harsh economic situation they are also having to compete with sleek online players.”

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