UK retail sales slumped in January as national lockdowns saw huge numbers of shops shutting their doors.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes fell 8.2% last month – significantly worse than analyst expectations, with a consensus of economists predicting a 2.5% decline.
Sales had increased by 0.3% in December, as Christmas demand and the relaxation of previous pandemic restrictions briefly buoyed retailers.
The January slump was less severe than in the first UK lockdown, but retail sales volumes remain 5.5% below pre-pandemic levels from February last year.
There was a surge in online trading, with e-commerce hitting a record proportion of 35.2% of all sales.
All sectors saw a decline in sales, except for non-store retailers and food retailers, which reported 3.7% and 1.4% jumps respectively.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said that department and clothing store sales were particularly affected this month.
“However, the decrease seen this time was not as large as that of the first lockdown, as some stores have adapted to the current circumstances, with services such as click-and-collect helping to cushion the fall.
“The share of online sales soared to a record high and accounted for over a third of total spending.
“It was also a strong month for food stores, due to the closure of pubs and restaurants.”
The figures come ahead of announcements by both UK and Scottish Governments early next week about a gradual end to current restrictions, with expectations that non-essential retailers will be able to open their doors again soon.
Commenting on the ONS data, Euan Murray, a relationship director with Barclays Corporate Banking in Scotland, said that as with previous lockdowns, there have been some rays of sunshine to report amidst the clouds.
“Consumers remain committed to improving the surroundings that they find themselves in most at the moment: as spending on items within the home has continued strongly.
“There have also been some successes to report amongst retailers providing ‘feel-good’ subscriptions that can be delivered to the door, with food boxes and fresh flowers all rising in popularity.”
He added: “Looking ahead, retailers will be keen to see how many of these ‘lockdown habits’ continue once restrictions are lifted – many will also hope that pent up demand for both clothing and beauty will help boost sales, once people are able to go out and socialise again.”
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