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Retail sales flatline as wet weather dampens demand

Retail sales flatlined in February as “extremely” wet weather put off shoppers from heading to the high street.

There was 0% growth in the sector last month, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday.

It said a good performance for clothes shops and department stores was offset by falls in food and fuel sales, possibly because of rising prices at the pumps.

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However, it appears the weather also had a major impact as consumers also shunned in-person stores in favour of online shopping.

February was one of the wettest since records began, with the south of England experiencing more than twice the level of average rainfall.

Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys and economic indicators at the ONS, said: “Many shops told us that an extremely wet February reduced in-store sales.

“But, with people staying indoors, we saw a boost of 2.1% in the amount spent online.”

February’s figure was better than the -0.3% growth predicted by economists in a Reuters poll.

It also comes following a surprise, better-than-expected increase in retail sales in January.

The ONS said on Friday it had revised January’s figure from 3.4% to 3.6%.

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Kris Hamer, director of insight at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said the wet weather had “dampened demand and depressed footfall”.

He added: “This was felt most in the more high-ticket categories such as furniture and electricals. Meanwhile, cosmetics and toiletries continued to sell well as popular brands go from strength to strength.

“Retailers are hopeful that with warmer weather and potential interest rate cuts around the corner, consumer confidence will soon spring back.”

The BRC also renewed its call for the “next government” to “address the high and rising cost burdens that retailers face, now and in the future”.

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Lisa Hooker, leader of industry for consumer markets at PwC, said it was “little surprise that retail sales were unable to continue the momentum of the apparent bounceback witnessed in January’s numbers”.

She added: “Overall, February’s retail sales figures confirm that, despite falling inflation, a 2% cut in national insurance at the start of 2024, and improving consumer confidence in their personal finances, shoppers are still hesitant to part with their hard-earned cash.

“With inflation forecast to fall to the Bank of England’s 2% target in April, in addition to a 9.8% rise in national living wage and a further 2% cut to national insurance, retailers will be hoping that the spring brings green shoots after a challenging last 18 months.”

Sky News Source