In April 2013, the quantity bought in the retail sector (or sales volumes) increased by 0.5% compared with April 2012. The only source of downward pressure from the four main retail sectors came from the food sector, where compared with April 2012, the quantity of goods bought decreased by 3.8%. This is the lowest since June 2011. The amount spent decreased by 0.2%, which is the largest contraction on record.
Looking at the monthly picture, April 2013 compared with March 2013, the quantity bought decreased by 1.3%. Even though there were falls within the non-store retailing and automotive fuel sectors, the monthly fall in the quantity bought was dominated by a fall of 4.1% in the food sector. This fall is the largest fall in the food sector since May 2011.
The contraction within the food sector both on the year and on the month leads to the level of goods bought in this sector falling to its lowest point since December 2003.
One possible reason for this contraction was a rise in prices, as indicated in figure 1a by store price inflation. Consumer prices data show that food prices have steadily been increasing and that there is a wide variety of food types contributing to the rise (including staple goods). April’s CPI release states that “the only notable upward contribution came from price movements for food & non-alcoholic beverages”. This rise in prices will have squeezed consumers’ disposable income, possibly resulting in them buying less or substituting cheaper goods for their normal purchases.
Looking at the variation between stores of different sizes, the amount spent (non-seasonally adjusted) shows that within the food sector, sales within large stores fell by 1.2% in April 2013 compared with April 2012. Over the same period, sales within small stores also fell by 5.1%, however, it is the large stores that dominate this sector with a contribution of 86%.
Assuming the Monthly Commodity Index (MCI) is a suitable proxy for sales within the large supermarkets, the data show that sales of food, drink and tobacco have fallen by 1.4%. This is the largest year-on-year fall since March 2000. Other MCI data show there were increases in the amount spent within clothing & footwear and other non-food, however, there was a decrease in the amount spent in household goods. Feedback from retailers suggested that the cold weather continued to impact on sales. In particular, the weather hindered sales within their spring and summer ranges, including barbecue items and garden furniture.
Source: Office for National Statistics
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