23 February 2021
Retail sales volumes and orders both fell in the year to February, with the pace of decline easing slightly on the previous month, according to the latest CBI quarterly Distributive Trades Survey.
The survey of 140 firms, of which 70 were retailers, reported record internet sales growth (the question first asked in August 2009), with another historically strong performance expected in the year to March.
Among retailers, only grocers saw any growth in volumes in the year to February, with non-store sales flat and other retail sectors reporting sharp declines. Looking ahead, retailers anticipate an even steeper fall in sales and orders for March, but sentiment for the quarter ahead stabilised, having fallen sharply in November.
Employment in the retail sector fell at a sharper pace in the year to February compared to November. For the distributive sector as a whole, employment fell at a record pace (balance of -49%), broadly comparable to the rate in August 2009 (-48%) during the global financial crisis.
Retailers expect to cut back on investment over the year ahead, but the pace of decline eased for the third consecutive quarter.
Ben Jones, CBI Principal Economist, said:
“With lockdown measures still in place, trading conditions remain extremely difficult for retailers. Record growth in internet shopping suggests that retailers’ investments in on-line platforms and click-and-collect services maybe paying off, but the re-opening of the sector can’t come soon enough to protect jobs and breathe life back into the sector.
“Retailers will welcome the clarity on re-opening provided by the government’s road-map, which suggests a return to some semblance of normality is on the horizon. But with activity in town and city centres likely to take some time to fully recover many retailers are still facing a difficult few months. They will be looking to the government to extend support in parallel with wider restrictions when the Chancellor unveils his budget next week.”
- Retail sales continued to decline in the year to February (balance of -45% from -50% in January), with a sharper drop expected next month (-62%)
- Retail orders also fell (balance of -36%, from -45% in January), with a deterioration expected in the year to March (-59%)
- Internet sales grew at a record pace (balance of +75%, from 43% in January), with a similar rate of growth expected the following month (+78%).
- Sales were seen as poor for the time of year (-38%, from -44% in January), and are expected to remain similarly poor next month (-41%).
- Retail employment fell for the 17th consecutive quarter and at a sharper pace than in the year to November (balance of -44%, from -32% in November). Retailers expect a similar fall in the year to March (-44%).
- For the distributive sector as a whole, employment fell at a record pace (balance of -49%, from -38% in November; question first asked in August 1983), with expectations for a similar fall next month (-48%)
- Retail investment intentions for the year ahead fell at a slower pace for the third consecutive quarter (balance of -8%, from -12% in November), with a similar trend seen for the distributive sector as a whole (-6% from -28%)
- Retail sentiment for the quarter ahead stabilised compared to November (balance of -2%, from -19% in November).
Wholesalers and motor trade
- Wholesalers’ volumes declined at a slower pace compared with the year to January (balance of -20%, from -34% in January) and expect a similar pace of decline in the year to March (-22%).
- Motor traders reported a similar pace of decline to last month (balance of -45%, from -46% in January) but expect sales volumes to fall at a sharper rate next month (-53%).