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UK retail sales suffer surprise September drop despite petrol panic buying

·2-min read
Vehicles queuing up outside a BP petrol station in Alton, Hampshire (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)
Vehicles queuing up outside a BP petrol station in Alton, Hampshire (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

UK retail sales have registered the longest period of consecutive monthly falls since records began around 25 years ago, with soaring petrol demand not enough to boost total September figures.

New data from the Office for National Statistics shows total retail sales volumes were 0.2% lower as more shoppers embraced online purchases, and non-food stores, such as lighting and furniture, were less in demand.

Looking at petrol, sales exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time last month, as motorists flocked to stations at unusually high rates when there was UK fuel shortages.

Automotive fuel sales jumped 2.9% last month. That was 1.8% higher than February 2020.

But total retail sales declined 0.2% last month, following an upwardly-revised 0.6% fall in August. That marks the fifth consecutive monthly decline, in a blow for high streets.

The ONS said that is the longest period of consecutive monthly falls since the tracking of the data started in 1996.

Total September figures, which were still 4.2% higher than just before the pandemic, were hit as household goods stores were in less demand, with sales plunging 9.3%. That covers retailers such as furniture and lighting ones.

Some reports have pointed to fewer people going shopping to save petrol recently.

Food store sales volumes rose by 0.6% but non-food shops reported a fall of 1.4%.

Darren Morgan, ONS director of economic statistics, said: “Despite the lifting of restrictions, in-store retail sales remain subdued, with many consumers still opting to shop online.”

On the contrary, the total proportion of retail sales online rose to 28.1% from 27.9% in August. It was19.7% in February last year.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers will be concerned by the slump in sales, just as they begin their preparations for the all-important Christmas period. Fuel shortages, wet weather, and low consumer confidence all contributed to lower consumer demand this month.”

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