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Online sales grow in February while in-store sales fall back: BRC

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Ecommerce and food sales drove retail sales growth this February, new data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggests.

Overall UK retail sales grew by a total 1.6% – or 0.6% on a like-for-like basis that strips out the effect of store openings and closures – in the four weeks to February 24, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Index. Online sales of non-food items were up by 6.4%, compared to the same time last year, while in-store sales of all products were down by 1.6% in total (3.3% like-for-like).

But while in-store food sales increased by 4% in total (2.8% LFL) in the three months to February, in-store non-food sales fell by 2.4% in total (-3.3% LFL) over the same period. This February, 21.1% of all retail sales took place online, up from 20.5% a year earlier, according to the BRC figures.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC , said: “Retailers experiencing any growth in this environment will be counting themselves lucky. Indeed, total growth of 1.6% in February is quite an achievement in such testing times. Softening consumer demand, rising costs for retailers and of course the ongoing structural changes within the industry, are creating the perfect storm which is uprooting the weakest players.

“On the high street, it was grocery sales that continued to pull it out of the bag. Meanwhile, Shrove Tuesday may have resulted in an uptick in cooking accessory sales, but performance in non-food in general was once again disappointing.

“Online retail appeared to have fared better – with growth across all categories – but the latest figures reinforce an underlying trend of a slow-down in growth online, which prompts concern.

“The retail shakeout will gather further momentum in the coming months, and retailers with large physical store estates are particularly under pressure. Moreover, the cost of one of the coldest winters on record has yet to be factored in. It’s not all doom and gloom though, a number of retailers are bucking the overall trend by focussing on a differentiated proposition whilst remaining relevant to the customer.”

Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of food and drink analysts IGD, said: “February was another steady month for food and grocery sales and included the usual boost from Valentine’s Day. From our ShopperVista tracking, 35% of shoppers say they spend more on food and drink during celebratory occasions such as this.

“The next big event is Easter and since warm conditions promote higher food and drink sales over that holiday weekend, retailers will be hoping for a transformation in the weather during March.”

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