The Retail Sales figures were criticised in an article in the Telegraph on Friday 20 June with one commentator querying the sources of the data. Comments made in the article included the claim that the figures did not tally with the BRC numbers and that the monthly data for May were misleading as some retailers said the reported rise in sales did not reflect their own experiences.
Your report entitled "Retailers' fury over official figures" (June 20) questioned where ONS got its estimates from. The short answer is from the retailers themselves.
Every month ONS surveys approximately 5,000 retail businesses in all sectors. All large retailers, approximately 900 in total, are included every month. A representative sample of approximately 4,100 'Small' and ‘Medium’ sized businesses is also included every month. Direct contact with individual businesses is always used to check data supplied. Our estimates are therefore very broadly based. The ONS estimates for May 2008 were consistent with the British Retail Consortium's, who said that "the [ONS] results confirm the BRC's findings that sales in May were boosted by sunny weather finally arriving".
We always advise against reading too much into a single month's figures. The change between the latest and previous three months is a better guide to underlying growth. Monthly figures can be volatile, affected by short-term factors such as the weather.
Office for National Statistics
Newport NP10 8XG