The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the soaring cost of living had benefited some shops such as discount department stores. Across the UK retail sector sales volumes rose by 1.2 per cent, a whole percentage point more than the 0.2 per cent analysts were expecting. The ONS also upgraded its January retail figures to 0.9 per cent growth from a previous estimate of 0.5 per cent. Last week, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said total sales north of the Border grew by a modest 0.6 per cent in February, compared with the same month last year and once inflation had been stripped out of the equation. The Scottish figures are based on value of sales rather than volumes.
ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “Retail grew sharply in February with sales returning to their pre-pandemic level. However, the broader picture remains more subdued, with retail sales showing little real growth, particularly over the last 18 months with price rises hitting consumer spending power. In the latest month, discount department stores performed strongly with food shops also doing well as consumers, confronted with cost-of-living pressures, cut back on eating out or purchasing takeaways.”
The amount spent at retailers rose by 6.3 per cent over the last 12 months, excluding petrol and diesel, despite volumes falling 3.3 per cent. That is because prices have increased significantly over the last year.
Danni Hewson, head of financial analysis at investment platform AJ Bell, said: “Looking at the latest retail sales figures you might be forgiven for wondering if Britain really is in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. But pop the hood and the reality is laid bare. Consumers appear to be choosing supermarkets over takeaways and snapping up bargains wherever they can. Yes, sales are back to pre-Covid levels but that just shows an economy that’s stagnant. Purchasing power has been eroded and some retailers’ books clearly show the sector is paying a high price.”