Furniture retail sales fall in February; flooring also down

Furniture retail sales decreased during February on last month as well as falling against an annual comparison.

According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, furniture and lighting retail sales fell 4.9% to £1.15bn from £1.21bn in January. Compared to the previous year, sales were down 5.7% from £1.22bn. This marked a second consecutive month of lower sales.

Floorcovering retail sales decreased month-on-month, down by 1.9% to £204.7m from £208.7m. Compared to the same time last year, sales fell by 2.8% from £210.7m.

Non-food stores sales volumes (the total of department, clothing, household and other non-food stores) rose by 0.7% over the month to February 2024, but fell 0.5% over the year.

Most of the increase within non-food stores was because of a monthly rise of 1.7% within clothing stores, following recent monthly falls. Retailers reported that new collections and promotions contributed to this rise.

Sales volumes at department stores and other non-food stores also grew over the month (by 1.6% and 0.4%, respectively). However, household goods stores fell by 1.0% with respondents reporting the economic climate and poor weather as factors that contributed to the fall.

Overall, retail sales volumes (quantity bought) were estimated to be flat (0.0%) in February 2024, following an increase of 3.6% in January 2024 (revised from an increase of 3.4%). February 2024 was a steadier month as sales values (amount spent) fell marginally by 0.1%, alongside unchanged volumes.

The amount spent online, known as online spending values, rose by 2.1% over the month to February 2024 (2.2% over the year). This monthly rise was the largest since July 2023 when shoppers switched to online shopping because of poor weather and increased promotions.

Clothing retailers reported strong online sales while department stores and household goods stores were the only two subsectors where sales values fell over the month. This monthly increase in online sales led to a rise in the proportion of sales made online, from 25.1% in January 2024 to 25.7% in February 2024.

Commenting on the retail sales figures for February, ONS Senior Statistician Heather Bovill said: “Retail sales were flat in February. There was growth in clothing, which rebounded after recent falls as people invested in the new season’s collections, as well as department stores. However, these were offset by falls in fuel sales, possibly affected by rising prices, and a reduction in food sales. Many shops told us that the wet weather hit in store sales, with online instead seeing a boost.”

Kris Hamer, Director of Insight at the British Retail Consortium, said:  “February sales were hit by the wettest February on record, which dampened demand and depressed footfall. This was felt most in the more high-ticket categories such as furniture and electricals. Meanwhile, cosmetics and toiletries continued to sell well as popular brands go from strength to strength. Retailers are hopeful that with warmer weather and potential interest rate cuts around the corner, consumer confidence will soon spring back.

“A strong retail industry is essential for boosting investment in town and city centres nationwide. The next Government must address the high and rising cost burdens that retailers face, now and in the future; these include April’s 6.7% business rates rise, ill-thought-out recycling proposals, and new border control costs – all in the context of the largest rise to National Living Wage on record. Without action, these costs continue to hold back investment in shops, in more jobs and lower prices across the country – meaning it is the consumers who ultimately pay the price.”

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