Belfast Telegraph

Retail sales hold up in February but bad weather deters summer clothes shoppers

Retail sales fared better than expected in February but the cold and wet weather deterred shoppers from hitting the new spring and summer clothes collections, official figures suggest.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the quantity bought in the retail industry decreased by 0.4% on January, while year-on-year sales registered a 3.8% increase.

The figures show sales held up well in February after jumping in January, when they were seemingly lifted by price savvy consumers looking to take advantage of the clearance sales.

ONS head of retail sales Melanie Richard said: "Retailers had another strong month in February compared with last year with the exception of clothing and footwear.

"Some of those stores have been telling us that sales of their new spring and summer collections were hit by the cold and wet weather last month."

The ONS said average store prices, including petrol stations, fell by 2.5% in February, the 20th consecutive month of year-on-year decreases.

The amount spent in the retail industry increased by 1.4% compared with February last year, and decreased by 0.7% compared with January this year.

The value of online sales increased by 12.3% on a year ago but decreased by 1% compared with January.

Ian Gilmartin, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays, said: "Perhaps the most interesting figure relates to the continued growth of online sales. A number of analysts expected online sales to plateau following the Christmas period; however, the opposite has occurred and online sales increased by 12.3% on February 2015.

"The online consumer is here to stay, and the omni channel business model has never been more important for consumer businesses."

Meanwhile, the CBI's latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey shows retail sales held broadly steady this month, also beating expectations of slowing growth.

The survey of 125 firms consisting of 63 retailers found that they consider retail, including online, sales to be average for the time of the year, and expect them to pick up next month.

CBI director of economics Rain Newton-Smith said: "It's encouraging to see that sales are holding up and expectations have picked up further.

"Retailers still face challenging global conditions but will welcome the Chancellor's Budget reforms to business rates, making it easier for them to operate on the high street.

"Continued low levels of inflation and more jobs will continue to boost household spending, also giving a helping hand to firms."