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January 2021 retail sales volumes decreased by 8.2% when compared with December

The latest ONS data points to a tough January for retailers, but not as bad as the first lockdown in March/April 2020

In January 2021, retail sales volumes decreased by 8.2% when compared with December 2020 as tighter nationwide coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions affected sales.

  • Retail sales volumes were 5.5% lower than before the pandemic in February 2020 indicating that the impact of restrictions on the retail sector was not as large as that seen in April 2020 during the first full month of retail restrictions when sales fell by 22.2% when compared with levels before the pandemic.
  • All sectors saw a monthly decline in volume sales in January 2021 except for non-store retailers and food stores, who reported growth of 3.7% and 1.4% respectively when compared with December 2020.
  • In the three months to January 2021, retail sales volume fell by 4.9% when compared with the previous three months, with strong declines in both clothing stores and automotive fuel.

The proportion spent online soared to 35.2% in January 2021, the highest on record; this compares with 29.6% in December 2020 and 19.5% reported in January 2020.

  • All store types reported an increase in their proportion of online spending in January 2021 when compared with December 2020; with food stores reaching an historic high of 12.2% of sales conducted online.
  • The monthly picture in January 2021 was one of growth, with total online sales increasing by 9.2% when compared with December 2020. Other non-food stores recorded the largest monthly growth of 31.1% while household goods and food stores also saw significant monthly increases of 22.6% and 11.5% respectively.
  • Department stores were the only sector to see a decline on the month of negative 9.1%.

The reporting period for the January publication covers 3 January 2021 to 30 January 2021; during this period there were widespread and extensive restrictions to non-essential retail in England, Scotland and Wales.

  • Feedback from retailers suggested that these enforced closures affected sales, although not to the same extent as witnessed in April 2020 (the first full month of restrictions on the retail sector) when total retail fell by 22.2% when compared with the February level.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggested that during the current period of restrictions, improved online capability and click and collect purchases helped to lessen the impact with a fall of 5.5% in January 2021 compared with February 2020 levels.

The quantity bought in non-food stores decreased by 24.4% in January 2021 when compared with December 2020

  • The non-food sector has been the worst affected by the restrictions to non-essential retail during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic period. Sales declined rapidly in March and April 2020, with consecutive monthly falls of 19.0% and 41.0% before six consecutive months of growth saw the sector return to the levels of sales observed before the pandemic in September 2020.
  • November 2020 saw the reintroduction of restrictions in several parts of the country leading to a monthly fall of 8.8% before a slight recovery again in December 2020 of 3.8% as restrictions were eased at the beginning of the month. January 2021 has seen a steep decline of 24.4% as nationwide restrictions on non-essential retail were reintroduced. This decline however is not as severe as under the first national lockdown

All non-food sectors declined in January 2021 but not to the levels seen in April 2020 during the first full month of lockdown restrictions

  • While all non-food stores fell in January 2021, the declines in all sectors weren’t as severe as in the spring of 2020 when restrictions were first applied to non-essential retail. During each period of tighter restrictions to non-essential retail, the clothing sector has been affected the most severely.



Source: ONS


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