UK retail sales remained flat in February as wet weather dampens food shopping

February's wet weather pushed down the footfall of people heading out to the shops. Credit: AP

UK retail sales remained flat in February as food and fuel sellers saw a decline during the month, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Sales showed growth of 0.0% in February, down from growth of 3.6% the month before, the ONS said.

Online sales had grown during the month, especially for clothing, as last month’s wet weather pushed down the footfall of people heading out to the shops.

The ONS said a “mild but wet” month where southern England saw its wettest February on record had helped to weigh on sales.

Food shops saw their sales drop by 0.3% during the month, with those who responded to the ONS survey blaming the weather for reducing the number of people visiting the shops.

A fall in fuel sales, down 1.3%, was blamed on higher prices. These falls were enough to offset the rise in sales volumes at clothing and department stores, which were boosted by new collections.

Overall, non-food stores, which include clothes sellers, saw their sales volumes increase by 1.7% during the months.

Meanwhile, the amount spent online, especially on clothes, rose 2.1% during the month, the largest single rise since July, when poor weather was also to thank.

ONS Senior Statistician Heather Bovill said: “Retail sales were flat in February. There was growth in clothing, which rebounded after recent falls as people invested in the new season’s collections, as well as department stores.

"However, these were offset by falls in fuel sales, possibly affected by rising prices, and a reduction in food sales.

“Many shops told us that the wet weather hit in store sales, with online instead seeing a boost.”

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Lisa Hooker, leader of industry for consumer markets at the PwC consultancy, said: “Little surprise that retail sales were unable to continue the momentum of the apparent bounceback witnessed in January’s numbers following a lacklustre Christmas.”

She added: “Grocery sales slowed slightly from the previous month’s highs, as more people ventured back to eating and drinking out after Dry January.

“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."