Recovery hopes for UK plc as retail sales rose 0.8 per cent last month

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There were fresh signs of revival in the economy today with figures showing Britons going out spending. 

Retail sales were up 0.8 per cent last month from July, fueled by home improvements and continuing high levels of online shopping. 

The figures are now 4 per cent above February before the coronavirus lockdown hit – suggesting that confidence is returning. However, clothing stores are still suffering.

Jonathan Athow of the Office for National Statistics said: ‘Retail sales continued to grow, further surpassing their pre-pandemic level.

‘Sales of household goods thrived as the demand for home improvement continued and, despite a dip this month, online sales remained high.

Retail sales were up 0.8 per cent last month from July, fueled by home improvements and continuing high levels of online shopping

Retail sales were up 0.8 per cent last month from July, fueled by home improvements and continuing high levels of online shopping

‘However, clothing stores continued to struggle with sales still well below their February level.

‘Overall, the switch to greater online sales means the high street remains under pressure.’   

The 0.8 per cent increase in August was a slowing from 3.6 per cent monthly growth in July.

But it exceeded the expectations from analysts, who had forecast a 0.6 per cent improvement.

Online sales continued to be strong as shoppers chose to stay at home but dipped slightly against the previous month.

Sales from online channels moved 2.5 per cent lower against July’s data but were still 46.8 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Spending on household goods was particularly strong in August, with retailers reporting a 9.9 per cent jump in sales of homeware products compared to February.

Clothing sales have struggled to recover at the same pace and remained 15.9 per cent below pre-Covid levels.

The ONS also reported that 51.5 per cent of food retailers said they saw a decrease in footfall from August 10 to August 23, which it said could be linked to the reopening of other areas of the economy, such as restaurants and bars.

Sales data from large retailers also showed a slight dip in sales in July and August compared to the previous months, as more people ate out again.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said: ‘Retail sales continued to grow, further surpassing their pre-pandemic level.

‘Sales of household goods thrived as the demand for home improvement continued and, despite a dip this month, online sales remained high.

‘However, clothing stores continued to struggle with sales still well below their February level.

Rishi Sunak (pictured on a visit to a pottery in Stoke-on-Trent this week) has said confidence will be critical for the recovery

Rishi Sunak (pictured on a visit to a pottery in Stoke-on-Trent this week) has said confidence will be critical for the recovery

‘Overall, the switch to greater online sales means the high street remains under pressure.’

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘It is clear that the retail industry is entering a period of fragile recovery, with August showing the third consecutive month of growth.

‘However, the recovery remains a mixed bag, with high growth in online sales while city centre shops suffered as a result of low footfall.’

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said: ‘After the stellar recovery in retail sales we saw in the past three months, it’s no surprise that the monthly rate of growth slowed in August.

‘Being the second month of the high street reopening in full, much of the focus last month was on the hospitality and leisure sectors.

‘The popularity of initiatives such as Eat Out To Help Out even led to a rare slowdown in grocery sales growth.’

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