Shoppers snap up summer clothes as food sales fall

Women shopping
Women shopping

Shop sales saw zero growth in February as wet weather and cost-of-living pressures kept people at home.

While clothing sales increased, this was offset by falling food and fuel sales, according to official figures.

February's flat sales came after a lacklustre December followed by a strong bounce back in January.

Although food price rises eased in February, people remained under pressure as a result of housing costs and fuel prices.

Economists had predicted that sales volumes would fall slightly in February.

However, clothing sales increased as did sales in department stores because shoppers splashed out on the new season's collections.

This boost helped to offset a drop in food sales as shoppers stayed away due to poor weather.

On the flipside, the weather benefitted online retailers, in particular those selling clothing.

February was the fourth wettest on record in England, and it was the warmest weather on record for England and Wales, Met Office figures show.

In southern England, it was the wettest February on record.

Climate change means the UK weather is on average getting wetter in the winter and drier in the summer, according to the Met Office, and heavy rainfall could get more frequent and longer if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at industry group the British Retail Consortium, said that retailers are increasingly having to manage the effects of climate change, which has created more variability in the weather.

"Without action, there is a real risk of food insecurity due to falling global farm yields and increased threats to global supply chains."

Along with the weather, the economic climate also contributed to a drop in footfall in food shops. Sales in household goods stores also fell, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Households have been squeezed by a cost-of-living crisis, and economic growth has been sluggish, with the UK in a shallow recession at the end of last year.

However, the pace of general price rises has been slowing, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the UK economy will "bounce back" in 2024.

Economic research firm Pantheon Macroeconomics predicted that retail sales would "drag the economy out of recession" in the first three months of the year.

February's flat retail sales contrasted with December's drop of 3.2%, and then a strong bounce back in January.

The ONS has now revised January's sales figures up from a 3.4% to a 3.6% rise.

Danni Hewson, head of financial analysis at AJ Bell, said it was not a surprise that February's downpours "kept people off High Streets and tucked up in their dry living rooms".

"After a few tricky months clothing retailers needed a win and those that have toiled to create must-have pieces at a price point that works for their buyer will be feeling a kind of fuzzy relief."