UK retail sales rise for fifth straight month as shoppers focus on DIY

Richard Partington Economics correspondent
·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Alamy

UK retail sales increased for the fifth consecutive month in September on the back of a rise in spending on DIY and household goods, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics said the volume of retail sales rose by 1.5% between August and September, continuing a recovery in consumer spending from the biggest slump on record during the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year.

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In a reflection of resilient household spending despite growing concerns over a rapid increase in coronavirus infections, total retail sales were 5.5% higher than pre-pandemic levels in February.

Over the last quarter, retail sales volumes surged by 17.4% when compared with the previous three months, the biggest quarterly increase on record.

Spending on household goods and garden items fuelled the recovery in sales on the month, as consumers shifted spending away from holidays abroad.

Fuel sales volumes were still 8.6% below February levels, with fewer people commuting to work, while clothing sales were 12.7% down – a reflection of fewer opportunities to socialise.

In a month when the onset of the second Covid-19 wave resulted in growing numbers of people returning to working from home, and after the end of the government’s “eat out to help out” discounts, food shops reported strong sales, with spending on groceries increasing by 0.7%.

Analysts said more restrictions on hospitality venues imposed by the government in recent weeks could give retail sales a further boost in the months ahead as people resort to cooking at home and ordering online again.

However, rising levels of unemployment after the end of the furlough scheme are likely to drag down consumer spending, with people becoming more cautious over spending during the second Covid wave.

Sales are expected to come under increasing pressure as local lockdowns and restrictions on travel depress high street footfall, while non-essential shops in Wales will close from 6pm on Friday.

Figures from the research provider GfK show UK consumer confidence tumbled in the first half of October, raising concerns that the economy could go into reverse this winter as tougher Covid restrictions are imposed.

GfK’s index of consumer morale fell six percentage points to minus 31 in the first half of the month, the weakest reading since May, when the UK economy first began to reopen from the lockdown in March and April.

The research showed Britons had grown more pessimistic about the general economic picture, and their own personal economic outlook, with a wave of joblessness looming.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The retail recovery remains fragile as the industry enters the all-important Christmas period, with November and December typically accounting for over a fifth of annual sales.”