Retail sales record fourth consecutive month of growth, ONS shows

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In August 2020, retail sales volumes increased by 0.8% when compared with July; this is the fourth consecutive month of growth, resulting in an increase of 4.0% when compared with February’s pre-pandemic level, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics shows.

In August, retail sales values increased by 0.7% when compared with July and 2.5% when compared with February.

In August, there was a mixed picture within the different store types as non-store retailing volumes were 38.9% above February, while clothing stores were still 15.9% below February’s pre-pandemic levels.

Spending for home improvements continued to rise in August as sales volumes within household goods stores increased by 9.9% when compared with February.

Online retail sales fell by 2.5% in August when compared with July, but the strong growth experienced over the pandemic has meant that sales were still 46.8% higher than February’s pre-pandemic levels.

Jo Causon, CEO at the Institute of Customer Service, said: “A continued rise in sales offers another glimmer of hope that things are starting to look up for retailers. Yet they mustn’t allow these positive signs to lull them into a false sense of security. As we have seen from the introduction of new restrictions this week, the economic and social situation remains volatile, and we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball when it comes to offering customers excellent service.

“Our most recent customer service index highlights that even those at the top and having to work harder than ever to show improvement in service as restrictions continue to change. With shoppers likely to become ever more discerning with where they spend their hard earned money, we must focus on building trust and maintaining satisfaction if we are to pull the nation out of recession.” 

Lynda Petherick, head of retail for Accenture UK and Ireland, said: “August’s retail sales are further evidence that consumers were getting back to normal, as sales stabilised in the run up to the typically busy “back-to-school” period. However, a dark cloud still hangs over the sector which means the apparent rebound could prove to be a false dawn. The recent tightening of lockdown measures, both locally and nationally, will be a bitter pill to swallow for retailers, and could lead to a steep drop in consumer confidence in September.

“The external environment is constantly shifting. Customer loyalty is becoming increasingly indispensable and consumer wants and expectations are changing. Brands should be ready to adapt and implement new business models grounded in responsible purchasing, and integrate their online and “in-store” channels, if they are to hold onto these steady gains in the months ahead.”