RETAIL sales fell by 0.3 per cent in January despite a boost from motorists taking advantage of cheaper petrol by filling up their cars much more.
Sales volumes excluding fuel were even weaker, falling by 0.7 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Average prices fell by 3.1 per cent in January compared with the same month the year before, the largest year-on-year fall since records began in 1997. It was driven by a 15.1 per cent fall in petrol stations as oil prices tumbled.
Statisticians said there was a significant increase in volumes bought at filling stations as well as sales at department stores but there was downward pressure from supermarkets and fashion shops.
Motorists pumped 11.1 per cent more fuel into their cars compared to January 2014 while month-on-month volumes were up 3 per cent.
James Knightley of ING Bank said the figures showed a “mixed performance for retailers”. He added that the year-on-year rise of 11.1 per cent in fuel volumes was “quite remarkable” since demand for petrol was not normally thought to be affected by price.
“There has been some anecdotal evidence that drivers are topping up their cars more frequently, perhaps because they don’t feel the cheap prices will last and this data seems to support that assumption,” he noted.
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