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Published
Mar 26, 2021
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UK fashion sales plunged in February say official stats

Published
Mar 26, 2021

The UK’s official retail sales figures have come through for February with the Office for National statistics saying that sales volumes only partly recovered. They saw a 2.1% month-on-month increase, compare to the 8.2% fall that has been seen in the previous month. Sales volumes were still down 3.7% year-on-year. Sales values rose 2.2% compared to January and fell 4.4% compared to February 2019.


Photo: Public domain/pexels



The good news was that non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth, helped by a 16.2% increase in department stores. 

And the bad news? Clothing retailers reported the largest fall. In fact, year-on-year, a massive 50.4% plunge in sales showed just how tough times are for the fashion sector. This is actually the last month in which year-on-year comparisons will give us such a clear picture of how sales have suffered in relation to more normal times. From March onwards, those comparisons will be with months that saw plunges caused by the pandemic in 2020.

With many stores closed in February, the ONS said the good news on department stores was largely due to budget department stores that were able to keep their physical stores open during the restrictions. This was because of them selling a mix of food and other essential items. A similar pattern was witnessed during the first lockdown in spring 2020 when volume sales for department stores fell by 24.1% in April 2020 but rebounded in May with growth of 13.2% as consumers took advantage of their continued store presence.

The proportion of online retail also increased to a record level in February reaching 36.1%, up from 35.2% in January 2021 and was far higher than the 20% in February 2020, reflecting the impact the pandemic has had on consumer behaviours for online retailing.

Department stores saw a significant monthly increase of 14.8% online but other non-food stores made up the only sector to see a decline in online sales month-on-month, falling 1.5%.

Karen Johnson, Head of Retail & Wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said of the figures: “February was clearly a month too early to put a spring in the step of consumer spending with only modest growth in sales recorded for the period. The recent publication of the ‘road out of lockdown’, alongside the progress made in the UK’s vaccination efforts, still needs more time to have the impact on consumer spending that we all eagerly await

“Although consumers are already starting to book holidays for later in the year, these figures show that they have not yet started to refresh their wardrobes in anticipation of these much-needed breaks and even the usual spend levels expected around Valentine’s Day don’t appear to have materialised.

“That said, growth in the current circumstances, no matter how modest, offers a glimmer of hope to the sector with non-food stores the largest positive contributor towards the monthly increase in both the amount spent and quantity bought and online sales achieving a new record high.”

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