Retail sales fall for first time in six years

Non-food retail sales saw the first quarterly decline since November 2011, new figures from the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor have revealed.

In the three months to February, non-food retail sales in the UK declined by 0.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis and 0.2 per cent on a total basis.

This was the first three-month decline since November 2011, dragging the 12-month total average to 0.6 per cent, which was the lowest level since May 2012.

However, online sales continued to flourish, with UK online purchases of non-food products increasing eight per cent in February, compared with the previous year, according to the BRC-KPMG Online Retail Sales Monitor.

This was higher than the three-month average of 7.7 per cent and the 12-month average of 9.3 per cent, and was the second consecutive month the 12-month average has sat above double-digit figures.

In the three months to February, UK online sales grew by 7.7 per cent year on year, which was the lowest three-month average since the monitor began.

In February, online sales represented 22.2 per cent of total non-food sales in the UK, compared with 21 per cent in February 2016.

However, in-store sales continued to lag behind, with a 2.4 per cent decline on a total basis in the three months to February, and a drop of 2.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis. In-store sales also showed a decline in February.

Said British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson (pictured): “A fairly stable rate of online growth has again helped compensate for declines in stores. The online market has now grown to over 20 per cent of total non-food sales, and as a result growth of eight per cent is understandable if not as impressive in previous years and helps explain the lowest three-month average rate of year-on-year growth since May 2013.

“Digital platforms remain the preference for a savvy shopper to search for the items they want at the best price, and helps explain why clothing and electronics have driven online growth when sales in stores have flagged. A later Mother’s Day this year has distorted the figures for February, since purchases that were made in the final week of February last year will now fall in March’s figures this year. We expect March’s growth to be stronger due to the impact of this distortion and of new video game releases.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, added: “Online retail sales in February provide further contrast to the poor performance noted on the high street. Non-food online sales are up eight per cent on last year and penetration rates remain stable at 22.2 per cent.

“Interestingly, many of the categories that failed to capture the attention of shoppers in store, did so online. Carefully placed promotions and the shorter wait until payday in February are likely to have nudged online shoppers to e-checkouts.”