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UK retail sales fall as cost of living pressures start to bite

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Online sales were hit hard last month, with shoppers curbing unnecessary purchases as the cost of living crisis began to bite, official figures showed. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes fell 1.4% in March – faster than the 0.5% fall in February – although they remain 2.2% above February 2020 pre-Covid levels.

Online sales were the hardest hit, dropping 7.9% in the month, after falling 6.9% in February. There was also a decline in fuel sales volumes of 3.8% as soaring petrol and diesel prices deterred motorists from making unnecessary journeys, the ONS added.

The only part of the retail landscape to see an increase in sales was in non-food stores, which rose 1.3%, led by a 2.6% rise in housewares retailers , including garden centers and DIY stores. ONS Director of Economic Statistics Darren Morgan said: “Retail sales fell notably in March as the rising cost of living hit consumer spending.

“Online sales have been particularly hard hit due to falling levels of discretionary spending. Fuel sales have also fallen significantly, with evidence suggesting some people have cut back on non-essential journeys, following record fuel prices. gasoline, while food sales continued to decline, falling for the fifth straight month.”

The ONS suggested the drop in online sales could be due to the end of lockdown restrictions and shoppers feeling confident to return to stores, compared to December and January when the Omicron variant of the coronavirus raged. He also warned that “part of the fall in February and March 2022 could also be linked to affordability issues” and pointed out that recent surveys found that 54% of adults said they were spending less on non-food products. essential due to an increase in the cost of living. .

Grocery store sales volume fell 1.1% in the month as households cut back on excessive food purchases due to cost-of-living concerns. The ONS added that the decrease was also due to more shoppers preferring to spend their money on dining out and socializing due to the end of Covid-19 restrictions.