Cost-of-living crisis drives UK retail sales down

UK retail sales volumes dropped by 1.4 per cent last month, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This was down on the 0.5 per cent fall in the previous month.

However, sales were still 2.2 per cent above their pre-covid levels.

The ONS data reveals that the biggest contributor to the decline in sales came from non-store retailing, which saw volumes fall by 7.9 per cent across the month after a decline of 6.9 per cent in February.

Despite these declines, sales volumes were 20.3 per cent higher than in February 2020.

Food store sales were down 1.1 per cent last month and have been falling every month since November last year.

ONS says that “higher spending in pubs and restaurants linked to reduced coronavirus restrictions, as well as the impact of rising food prices on the cost of living” are possible factors for the decline.

Non-food store sales saw an increase of 1.3 per cent in March due to growth in other non-food stores and household goods stores.

The study shows that the proportion of retail sales online dropped to 26 per cent last month, its lowest level since February 2020 when it was at 22.7 per cent.

This continues a downward trend since its peak – 37.1 per cent – in February last year.

“March sales were impacted by rising concerns around inflation as consumer confidence tumbled,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, responding to the ONS figures. “The cost-of-living squeeze has many consumers thinking twice about major purchases, while their expectations of future financial situation plummeted to lows not seen since the financial crisis.

“Consumers face even more challenges as the energy price cap rose to a record high this month. Internet sales dropped to their lowest proportion of total retail sales since the start of the pandemic as shoppers gradually returned to physical retail destinations.”

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