UK retail sales 'partly recover' thanks to DIY and garden furniture demand

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·2 min read
A custiomer shops in a garden and DIY centre. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP
A custiomer shops in a garden and DIY centre. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Retail sales rebounded slightly in February as Brits spent money on home improvement projects and lawn furniture in preparation for easing lockdown restrictions.

Official figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday showed UK retail sales rose by 2.1% last month, in line with forecasts.

February's sales were boosted by strong demand for household goods. Sales in this category rose by 16%. The ONS said there was "anecdotal evidence" this rise was caused by demand for "DIY products as consumers continue to improve their homes during lockdown" and demand for outdoor furniture "in preparation for the easing of lockdown restrictions, particularly the ability to meet friends and relatives in private gardens as the weather improves."

Earlier this week B&Q reported strong sales thanks to home improvement projects and said "a new generation of DIY'ers" had emerged in response to lockdown.

Retail sales "only partly recovered in February," the ONS cautioned. Rising sales in February followed a sharp slump in January as the UK returned to lockdown. Non-essential shops were ordered to shut, leaving only a handful of retailers such as supermarkets and pharmacists open.

Sales in February were 3.7% below pre-pandemic levels. Clothing sales were 50% lower than a year ago.

Retail sales rose last month but remained below pre-pandemic levels. Photo: ONS
Retail sales rose last month but remained below pre-pandemic levels. Photo: ONS

"Total retail sales levels for both the amount spent and quantity bought had been higher than pre-pandemic levels between July and December 2020, however, February 2021 marked the second consecutive month where sales levels were lower than before the pandemic began," the ONS said.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "UK stores have now lost a whopping £27 billion from lost sales during the three lockdowns. This is already impacting retail employment, with 67,000 retail jobs lost between December 2019 and 2020."

Businesses across the economy have adapted far better to the latest lockdown. Many have ramped up online operations to compensate for closed shops. Online shopping has jumped from around a fifth of all sales prior to the pandemic to a record 36.1% last month, the ONS said.

"Things will improve when shops are allowed to reopen in April, though a greater consumer focus on services and the trend towards online shopping means the headwinds for traditional high-street retailers are building," said James Smith, an economist at ING.

WATCH: UK retailers return £1.8bn in business rates relief