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International Measures of Retail Sales This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 06 June 2014 Download PDF

Abstract

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) measures the value (or current price) and volume of retail sales in Great Britain on a monthly basis. Retail sales are a key economic indicator, one of the earliest short-term measures of economic activity and currently accounts for 5.7% of GDP with total annual sales of £360 billion in 2013 (non-seasonally adjusted).

International Measures of Retail Sales

This paper compares GB retail sales data with data from USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and the euro area.

Table 1 shows what is produced by each country and how these compare.

Comparison of retail sales across countries

  UK  USA Canada Australia Japan EU 1
Current price data Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Volume Data Yes No Yes Quarterly No Yes
Wholesale No No No Yes Yes No 
Automotive fuel Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Motor Trades No Yes Yes No  Yes No
Cafes, Restaurants & Takeaways No Yes No  Yes No No
Internet data Yes Quarterly Annual Yes (experimental) No No
Publication date after period end (approximately) 2 weeks 2 weeks 6 weeks 5 weeks 4 weeks 5 weeks

Table notes:

  1. Up to 31 December 2013, the euro area (EA17) included Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland.  From 1 January 2014 the euro area (EA18) also includes Latvia.  The European Union (EU28) includes Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

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Data Collected

All countries produce current price data with the exception of EU, who publish volume data only (note that current price data should be available from each individual EU country).  

Volume data are produced monthly by GB and Canada with Australia producing a quarterly series in March, June, September and December.   

Coverage

It is difficult to accurately compare retail sales across countries for several reasons: the main reason being one of coverage.  While GB does not include motor trades within retail sales (motor trades data are collected separately) many other countries include these data within retail sales estimates including USA, Canada and Japan.  

This makes a like for like comparison difficult.  If GB included motor trades this would mean that ONS would not be compliant with European legislation.  USA and Australia also include cafes, restaurants & takeaways which are also not covered in GB retail sales as these are classified as services.  

Comparison of main retail sectors

A like for like comparison within each sector is also difficult due to the differing nature of each economy and what is covered.  Several countries do not classify retail sales into the main sectors which are used in GB; food stores, non-food stores, non-store retailing, other stores and fuel stores and it would be difficult to combine everything correctly from the individual industries by country.   

There are several areas where comparisons can be made on a like for like for like basis, for example food and fuel stores.  Spending on food in GB is approximately 42%, 41% in Australia, 31% in Japan but lower in Canada and the USA at 22% and 13% respectively.  Fuel spending is broadly similar across countries at approximately 11% in GB and USA, 13% in Canada and 10% in Japan.  Australia do not collect fuel data within retail sales.

Timing

Another difficultly in providing a regular comparison of international retail sales is the timing of each release with GB releasing data just 2 weeks after the period end. 

This is earlier than most other countries, although the USA release advance sales figures within 2 weeks with more detailed data being released 6 weeks later.  This can be compared with Canada and Australia who release data approximately 5 and 6 weeks after the period end respectively. 

This means that in many cases GB have produced two months worth of data before some countries have produced one month, therefore a like for like monthly comparison is impossible.  Australia and Canada produce a regional breakdown of retail sales between province and this could partly explain why the data are produced later than other countries.

Special Events

Within each country there are special events which can have an impact on month to month data, some examples of this being the Royal Wedding and extra bank holiday in April 2011. 

In addition the London Olympics in July 2012 in GB had an obvious effect on the data.  These all had a positive effect on the year-on-year and month-on-month growth rates. 

Weather

The weather is another event that can have an impact on the retail sales data.  Further analysis on how this has affected GB retail sales can be found in ONS’ “How sensitive to the weather is the retail sector” published 15 January 2014.  A further review is currently being undertaken and this will be published on the ONS website in due course.   

Obviously these effects are specific to GB only and while these data feed into the EU total the impact would not be felt internationally.  Several other countries have reported that retail sales can be badly affected by the weather, including Canada where store types typically associated with the holiday shopping period in December 2013 registered weaker sales due to extreme weather conditions. 

Internet

Internet sales data are collected and published on a monthly basis by GB which is mirrored by Australia who currently publish an experimental estimate of online retailing but once again these are not fully comparable as the coverage of both surveys is different. 

Australia collect data on food services, whereas these are not covered by GB.  USA produce a quarterly estimate of retail e-commerce, while Canada produce annual e-commerce estimates.

Background notes

  1. Relevant Links

    GB retail sales

    USA retail sales

    Canada retail sales

    Australia retail sales

    Japan retail sales

    EU retail sales

  2. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

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