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Shoppers rein in spending, pulling February retail sales down 0.3%

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The brief optimism as Covid restrictions fell away was soon met with concerns around rising inflation, as Brits reined in their spending in February 2022.

Retail sales volumes fell 0.3% in February, following a rise of 1.9% in January.

However, despite the fall, volumes are still 3.7% above their pre-coronavirus February 2020 levels, while in value terms, they’re 10.2% higher, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The data which captures spending between 30 January and 26 February 2022, revealed that non-store retailing sales volumes fell by 4.8% after rapidly rising during the early months of the pandemic.

This is because many online stores continued to trade when non-essential retailing was closed. It followed a 4% increase in January 2022 as concerns over the Omicron variant mounted, but fell back in February as Covid restrictions loosened.

Food store sales volumes fell 0.2% with large declines seen in alcohol and tobacco stores, which the ONS said could be linked to higher spending in pubs and restaurants “as confidence increased in going out”. However, food store sales volumes were a fraction (0.1%) down on pre-coronavirus February 2022 levels.

Elsewhere, spend on clothing was up 13.2% and 1.3% in department stores following the return to office working and the lifting of ‘Plan B’ covid restrictions at the end of January.

While some retailers suggested the storms dampened spending, fuel sales rose by 3.6%.

The proportion of retail sales online fell to 27.8%, its lowest proportion since March 2020 (22.7%) “continuing a broad downward trend since its peak in February 2021 (37.7%)”, the ONS said.

‘Rocky road ahead’

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Sales growth fell slightly in February as rising concerns about inflation appeared to dampen consumer appetites. Stronger sales results could be seen for clothing and footwear, while food spend remained down on last year for the second consecutive month. Online sales fell as compared to last year, when the country was in its third lockdown, as more people returned to the shops.

“Consumers face a rocky road ahead, with rises in the energy price cap and National Insurance contributions both coming next week. Meanwhile confidence has been knocked by the continued rise in inflation, as well as the uncertainty created by the situation in Ukraine. While the chancellor’s Spring Statement offered some relief for consumers, rising inflation and next week’s rise in the energy price cap mean that real discretionary incomes are likely to fall in the coming months, as the cost of living soars.”

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