Furniture retail sales rise in March 2024; flooring also up

Furniture retail sales increased during March on last month but were down against an annual comparison.

According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, furniture and lighting retail sales rose 26.4% to £1.48bn from £1.17bn in February. Compared to the previous year, sales were down 7.5% from £1.6bn.

Floorcovering retail sales increased month-on-month, up by 32.4% to £271m from £204.6m. Compared to the same time last year, sales rose by 1.1% from £267.9m.

Non-food stores sales volumes (the total of department, clothing, household and other non-food stores) rose by 0.5% over the month, with increased footfall reported by some retailers.

This is consistent with the rise in footfall on the high street, as seen in the national retail footfall data in our Economic activity and social change in the UK, real-time indicators bulletin. Rises were seen in secondhand goods stores (which includes antiques and auction houses), hardware and furniture stores, and clothing stores.

March 2024 continued the steady trend seen in February 2024, as both sales values (amount spent) and volumes saw no change on the month (0.0%). Volumes rose 0.8% over the year to March 2024, while remaining 1.2% below their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic level in February 2020. Retail sales volumes (quantity bought) were estimated to be flat (0.0%) in March 2024, following an increase of 0.1% in February 2024.

The amount spent online, known as online spending values, rose by 0.1% over the month to March 2024, and by 1.7% over the year. As total spend showed no growth on the month, the 0.1% rise in the amount spent online increased the proportion of sales made online, from 25.8% in February 2024 (revised from 25.7%) to 25.9% in March 2024.

Commenting on the retail sales figures for March, ONS senior statistician Heather Bovill said: “Retail sales registered no growth in March. Hardware stores, furniture shops, petrol stations and clothing stores all reported a rise in sales. However, these gains were offset by falling food sales and in department stores where retailers say higher prices hit trading. 

“Looking at the longer-term picture, across the latest three months retail sales increased after a poor Christmas.” 

Responding to the latest ONS Retail Sales Index figures, Kris Hamer, Director of Insight at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Sales volumes returned to growth in March, helped by sales of food, beverages and household goods. While consumer confidence remains weak, it is well above levels seen last year. Large ticket items like furniture continued to sell badly as consumer spend remains restrained by the high cost of living, and footwear sales were impacted by the poor weather. With brighter weather on the way, retailers are starting to plan their summer collections, and are hopeful that consumers will be looking to refresh their homes and wardrobes.

“If the next Government wants to boost investment and jobs in town and city centres across the country, it must recognise the crucial part that retail, as the Everywhere Economy, plays in achieving this. As one of the largest employers in most areas of the country, retail plays a unique role in building communities and generating economic growth in many left behind regions. The future Government must champion a pro-growth policy, addressing cost burdens on businesses, so retailers can unlock important investment up and down the UK.”

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