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UK retail sector struggled even before the health crisis

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Retail sales data for February 2020 showed the sector was already struggling before the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK.

In February, the monthly growth rate in the quantity bought fell by 0.3% following the effect of the extreme rainfalls and storms.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that in the three months to February, the quantity bought in retail sales fell for the fourth consecutive month by 0.6%.

And when compared with February 2019, sales this year remained flat. The ONS said this is the lowest year-on-year growth rate since March 2013 at -1.6%.

While the data is largely unaffected by the developments of coronavirus, a small number of retailers suggested that online orders shipped from China were reduced.

And online sales as a proportion of all retailing was 19.6% in February 2020, up from the 19.1% reported in January 2020.

Ed Monk, associate director for personal investing at Fidelity International, said: “Clearly any data from the world pre-coronavirus has only limited value now, but today’s retail sales numbers show the sector was beginning to struggle even before the pandemic struck the UK.

“Early warning signs were reported in the period covered by these figures, but only retailers reliant on Chinese supply chains that were affected back in January. Department stores, in particular, were struggling and would now appear to be among the shops most likely to be negatively impacted by the long-term changes that could flow from the health crisis.”

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