26 January 2021
Retail sales volumes fell in the year to January, having been broadly stable in December, according to the latest monthly CBI Distributive Trades Survey.
The survey of 133 firms, including 66 retailers, was in field between 22 December and 14 January, a period in which restrictions across the UK gradually tightened, with the whole country in a full lockdown by 5 January.
The survey balances for both sales volumes and orders placed with suppliers were the weakest since May 2020 in the year to January. Sales were also seen as poor for the time of year to the greatest extent since last May.
Among the sub-sectors, grocers and furniture retailers reported flat sales, while the remaining sub-sectors (including clothing and recreational goods) registered sharp declines. Online sales eased slightly to around the long run average. Meanwhile, the ratio of stocks to expected sales rose but remained below its long run average.
Looking ahead, sales are expected to remain similarly weak for the time of year in February, with both sales and orders sharply down on levels next month.
Ben Jones, CBI Principal Economist, said:
“Today’s data brings home the ongoing challenges of lockdown for the retail sector, as sales volumes weaken once again. On the upside, while the headline balance points to a fall in sales across many sub-sectors, the experience of the past few months suggests the decline won’t be anything like as severe as in spring 2020.
“With the lockdown likely to remain in place in the near-term, retailers expect this weakness to continue. It is therefore vital that government support continues in parallel to restrictions.
“To alleviate some of the stress on our struggling high streets, the business rates holiday should be extended for at least another three months to those businesses forced to close. In the longer-term there must be a fundamental review of business rates. A reformed system can play a key role in driving essential investment across the UK.”
- Retail sales fell in the year to January, with the balance the weakest since May 2020 (-50%, from -3% in December and -50% in May). Sales are expected to fall at a broadly similar pace next month (-47%).
- The orders balance was also the weakest since May 2020 (balance of -45%, from -4% in December and -56% in May) with a similar drop expected next month (-44%).
- Online sales growth eased slightly to around the long run average (balance of +43% from +51%), where it is expected to remain in February (43%)
- The ratio of stocks to expected sales rose, but remained below its long-run average (balance of +12%, from +3%) is are expected to remain broadly similar next month (+11%).
Wholesalers and motor trade
- Wholesalers (-34% from +19%) and motor traders (-53% from -32%) also saw falls in sales volumes in the year to January.
- Both sectors expect a decline next month, with wholesale sales expected to drop at a slower pace (-11%)