Online sales take record share as retail bags better February

The proportion of online retail sales hit a record 36.1% in February as business bounced back despite stores deemed ‘non-essential’ remaining shut under coronavirus restrictions, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) charted a limited bounce back for total sales growth following a slump of 8.2% in January as a new wave of COVID-19 lockdowns took their toll on activity.

The rise of 2.1% for sales in February, compared with the previous month, was in line with the predictions of economists and better than industry figures reported earlier in the month as the sector continues to reel from more than a year of disruption.

Live COVID updates from across the UK and the world

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Retail and hospitality rue 12 months of COVID carnage

Retail sales were down by 3.7% compared with February 2020, the ONS said.

The British Retail Association claimed the crisis amounted to £27bn in lost sales for the industry since December 2019.

While many stores, barring the likes of supermarkets and DIY chains, have been forced to close in the interests of protecting public health, online-only players and those with established digital sales channels have largely flourished.

More from Business

The 36.1% share of total sales for online purchases compares to a 20% figure a year ago.

The ONS said non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in February – driven by rises of 16% for department stores and household goods stores.

It noted surging interest in outdoor furniture ahead of the relaxing of coronavirus restrictions which will allow people to meet in gardens.

Demand for fashion, however, remained in the doldrums as stay at home orders remained with sales volumes falling by 50.4% compared with a year ago.

Highstreet retail and tourism has struggled in the pandemic
High streets are feeling particular pain from lockdown restrictions

ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, Jonathan Athow, said of February’s performance: “Despite national restrictions, retail sales partially recovered from the hit they took in January.

“Food and department stores benefitted from essential retail remaining open with budget-end department stores seeing increased sales.

“Household goods also fared well, with feedback suggesting spending on home improvement and outdoor products boosted sales as consumers prepared for an easing of lockdown restrictions.

“However, clothing stores continue to struggle with sales down more than half on their pre-pandemic level.

“The share of online sales increased to a record high reflecting the impact the pandemic has had on consumer spending.”