Retail sales continue recovery in August but lose pace

UK retail sales continued their recovery in August but saw growth slow down, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS said volumes for the month were 4% higher than in February, before the country was fully impacted by the pandemic.

However, this represented a 0.8% increase on July’s figures, as it slowed from 3.6% monthly growth.

Analysts had forecast that retail sales would improve by 0.6% month-on-month in August.

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% lower against July’s data but were still 46.8% higher than pre-pandemic levels.

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

Elsewhere, clothing sales have struggled to recover at the same pace and remained 15.9% below pre-Covid levels.

The ONS also reported that 51.5% 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.

“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 lead to a rare slowdown in grocery sales growth.”

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