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Retail sales remain flat in February as poor weather hits food shopping

22 Mar 2024 3 minute read
Photo Jon Super. PA Images

Retail sales volumes were flat in February as the fuel and food sectors saw declines, in part due to the bad weather, according to new data.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said sales growth hit 0.0% in February, down from growth of 3.6% in January, a figure which had been revised up by 0.2 percentage points.

The ONS said a “mild but wet” month where southern England saw its wettest February on record had helped to weigh on sales.

Food shops saw their sales drop by 0.3% during the month, with those who responded to the ONS survey blaming the weather for reducing the number of people visiting the shops.

Fuel sales

A fall in fuel sales, down 1.3%, was blamed on higher prices. These falls were enough to offset the rise in sales volumes at clothing and department stores, which were boosted by new collections.

Overall, non-food stores, which include clothes sellers, saw their sales volumes increase by 0.7% during the month.

Meanwhile, the amount spent online, especially on clothes, rose 2.1% during the month, the largest single rise since July, when poor weather was also to thank.

“Retail sales were flat in February,” said ONS senior statistician Heather Bovill.

“There was growth in clothing, which rebounded after recent falls as people invested in the new season’s collections, as well as department stores.

“However, these were offset by falls in fuel sales, possibly affected by rising prices, and a reduction in food sales.

“Many shops told us that the wet weather hit in-store sales, with online instead seeing a boost.”


Lisa Hooker, leader of industry for consumer markets at the PwC consultancy, said: “Little surprise that retail sales were unable to continue the momentum of the apparent bounceback witnessed in January’s numbers following a lacklustre Christmas.”

She added: “Grocery sales slowed slightly from the previous month’s highs, as more people ventured back to eating and drinking out after Dry January.

“Overall, February’s retail sales figures confirm that, despite falling inflation, a 2% cut in national insurance at the start of 2024, and improving consumer confidence in their personal finances, shoppers are still hesitant to part with their hard-earned cash.

“With inflation forecast to fall to the Bank of England’s 2% target in April, in addition to a 9.8% rise in national living wage and a further 2% cut to national insurance, retailers will be hoping that the spring brings green shoots after a challenging last 18 months.”

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