Letter to the Financial Times, 16 May 2008
A Financial Times reader had written in questioning the usefulness of retail sales figures produced on a 'like-for-like' basis as a measure for the UK economy as a whole. The National Statistician replied, agreeing that the way the ONS official figures are produced gives a better measure of economic change, although both methods have their usefulness.
Steve Mann questions whether ‘like-for-like’ comparisons of retail sales are a relevant indicator of the national economy (letters, May 14). I agree that total sales is a better measure of aggregate economic change than ‘like-for-like’ sales since it reflects store openings and closures, which themselves give an indication of economic growth. I can assure him that the official statistics for retail sales published by the Office for National Statistics are based on the total sales of a representative sample of 5,000 retailers, of all sizes. This compares with around 100 larger retailers in the British Retail Consortium’s sample, which is the basis of the ‘like-for-like’ comparison and the BRC's estimate of total sales. ONS also publishes estimates allowing for seasonal fluctuations and for the volume (that is, adjusted for inflation), as well as the value, of sales. Both the official and BRC estimates have roles to play, but both require careful interpretation and, as Mr Mann also notes, different figures should be used for different purposes.
Office for National Statistics,