UK shop sales fall for the fifth month in a row

UK shop sales fall for the fifth month in a row

Retail sales fell for the fifth month in a row in September, with people spending less in shops despite Covid restrictions easing in the summer.

Sales dipped by 0.2% in September, following a 0.6% drop in August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Non-food stores were hit hardest by the decline in sales, with customers buying fewer household goods and furniture. In contrast, fuel sales rose by 2.9%, pushed up by a spike in demand.

Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: “Household goods were the main driver of this month’s decline, with a fall of nearly 10%, while food sales ticked back up after falling last month.”

Petrol sales exceeded their pre-pandemic levels for the first time in September, he said. Petrol stations reported strong sales during the last week of the month after warnings over delivery problems due to a shortage of lorry drivers.

Despite coronavirus-related restrictions being lifted in the summer, shopping in-store remained subdued.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said shop owners would be concerned by the slump in sales in the run-up to the key Christmas trading period.

“For the sake of the UK’s economic recovery, it is vital that retail sales bounce back as we near the festive season,” she said.

She said labour shortages across supply chains, warehouses, and factories put pressure on retailers ahead of the festive season.

The proportion of online sales, however, rose to 28.1% in September, from 27.9% the month before – much higher than pre-pandemic levels. Department stores also reported an increase in sales of 4.3%.

Bethany Beckett, UK economist at Capital Economics, said the latest figures suggested the “economic recovery is fast running out of steam”.

The fifth monthly fall in sales in September marks the longest continuous drop since records began in 1996, although they remain about pre-pandemic levels.

“Given the backdrop of continued shortages and rising Covid-19 infections, we suspect that retail sales growth will continue to be weak in the coming months,” Ms Beckett said.

In the run-up to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget, trade organisations have recently called for additional support.

The BRC, in a joint letter also signed by the CBI and UK Hospitality, called for the reform of business rates charged on non-domestic properties, saying that businesses needed help to rebuild after Covid.