Riots hit retail sales volumes
Retail sales volumes fell 0.2% in August, official figures have shown, as violent riots earlier in the month triggered store closures across the country.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said while it was impossible to quantify, there was clear evidence the widespread looting in early August had an impact on retail trade.
However, some stores believed they benefited from the riots as consumers altered their shopping behaviour by seeking alternatives to shops which had closed and moved to avoid the violence.
The shocking scenes, which led to thousands of arrests across Britain's biggest cities, added to the wider malaise swamping the retail sector, which has been knocked sideways by a consumer spending squeeze, driven by high prices and low wages.
The drop in August sales volumes, compared with 0.2% growth in July, was driven by most retail sectors with the greatest decrease coming from department stores, closely followed by computer and telecoms businesses.
The retail sector has had a torrid year, with department store TJ Hughes, fashion specialist Jane Norman, and interior designer Habitat falling into administration, while Mothercare, entertainment group HMV and chocolatier Thorntons have all announced store closures.
The latest figures come as electrical goods retailer Comet, which is up for potential sale, reported a 22% plunge in like-for-like sales in the three months to July 31.
Food stores saw a 0.3% decline in sales volumes in August, compared to 0.7% growth in July, as higher prices - which have increased 5.7% since August last year - led to cash-strapped consumers shopping more cautiously.
There was some support from non-store retailing, which includes mail order and internet shopping, which was up 0.7% month-on-month, while clothing stores were also up 0.5%. Internet sales now make up 9.6% of all retail sales, the ONS said, which represents £1 in every £10 spent in retail.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said the outlook for consumer spending was bleak as the squeeze on household incomes tightens as utility bill hikes this month and planned increases for September add to the pressure.