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Statistical bulletin: Retail Sales, April 2012 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 23 May 2012 Download PDF

Key points

  • All retail sales values in April 2012 increased by 0.4 per cent when compared with April 2011. This is the slowest rate of growth since January 2010 when sales values were also 0.4 per cent higher compared with a year ago.
  • Sales volumes in April 2012 decreased by 1.1 per cent when compared with April 2011. This is the largest fall in sales volume year-on-year growth since August 2011 when sales volumes fell by 1.2 per cent.
  • The slow down in sales values and the contraction in sales volumes growth were driven by predominantly food stores, predominantly automotive fuel stores and textile, clothing and footwear stores.
  • In April 2012 sales values in predominantly food stores increased by 0.1 per cent compared with April 2011, the slowest year-on-year growth in this series which started in January 1989.
  • In April 2012 sales volumes in predominantly automotive fuel stores fell by 13.2 per cent month-on-month, the largest fall in this series which started in February 1996. This follows an increase in month-on-month sales growth in this sector in March 2012 of 5.3 per cent.
  • The year-on-year implied price deflator, which can be interpreted as store price inflation, slowed in April 2012 to 1.7 per cent from 2.6 per cent in March 2012.

Key figures

All retailers, April 2012 (seasonally adjusted percentage change)

  Most recent month on a year earlier Most recent 3 months on a year earlier Most recent month on previous month Most recent 3 months on previous 3 months
Value  0.4 3.2 -2.8 0.5
Volume -1.1 1.1 -2.3 0.2
Value excluding automotive fuel 0.9 2.9 -1.3 0.8
Volume excluding automotive fuel -0.3 1.2 -1.0 0.5

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At a Glance

In April 2012 the all retail sales volumes index decreased by 1.1 per cent compared with April 2011 and decreased by 2.3 per cent compared with March 2012. 

The all retail sales values index increased by 0.4 per cent compared with April 2011 and decreased by 2.8 per cent compared with March 2012.

Store price inflation slowed to 1.7 per cent, its lowest rate since November 2009. The Consumer Prices Index slowed to 3.0 per cent in April from 3.5 per cent in March and was last lower in December 2009.

Two of the main drivers for the year-on-year decrease in sales volumes came from the predominantly food sector and predominantly automotive fuel sector.

Predominantly food sector

Figure 1 shows the seasonally adjusted index level of both sales volumes and sales values for the predominantly food sector over the period April 2010 to April 2012. Over this period sales volumes have fallen whereas sales values have increased. This means that driving the growth in sales values is an increase in the prices of goods sold within this sector, which are estimated to have increased by 3.7 per cent. 

The large peak in April 2011 where sales volumes in the predominantly food store sector increased by 3.0 per cent compared with March 2011, is a consequence of the Royal Wedding and warm weather boosting retail sales for this sector, and together with the fall in May 2011 of 4.2 per cent highlights how events and weather can affect the retail sales figures. 

Figure 1, predominantly food stores, seasonally adjusted

Figure 1, predominantly food stores, seasonally adjusted

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Looking at the latest month we see that in April 2012, sales volumes in this sector decreased by 3.5 per cent compared with April 2011 and by 0.6 per cent compared with March 2012. Sales values increased by 0.1 per cent compared with April 2011, the smallest rate of growth in this series, which started in January 1989, and decreased by 0.5 per cent compared with March 2012.

Predominantly automotive fuel

Figure 2 shows the seasonally adjusted index level of both sales values and volumes for the predominantly automotive fuel sector over the period April 2010 to April 2012. Over this period there has been a gradual increase in sale values. Sales volumes have also seen an increase but at a slower rate.

In April 2012 sales volumes in predominantly automotive fuel stores fell by 13.2 per cent month-on-month, the largest fall in this series which started in February 1996. This follows an increase in month-on-month sales growth in March 2012 of 5.3 per cent, caused by consumers purchasing extra fuel in case the threat of a fuel tanker strike became a reality.

Figure 2, predominantly automotive fuel, seasonally adjusted

Figure 2, predominantly automotive fuel, seasonally adjusted

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Retail Sales in Detail

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) measures spending (value) and volume of retail sales in Great Britain. Figures are adjusted for seasonal variations unless otherwise stated and the reference year for both value and volume statistics is 2008=100. For an explanation of the terms used in this bulletin, please see the background notes section. Care should be taken when using the month-on-month growth rates due to their volatility; an assessment of the quality of the retail statistics is available in the background notes.

Seasonally Adjusted Year-on-Year Growth Rates and Contribution to all Retailing by Sector

  % of all retailing Volume year-on-year growth (%) Contribution to all retailing (% points) Value year-on-year growth (%) Contribution to all retailing (% points)
All retailing  100.0 -1.1 0.4  :
           
Predominantly food stores 41.7 -3.5 -1.4 0.1 0.0
           
Predominantly non-food stores          
Total 43.2 0.8 0.4 0.2 0.1
Non-specialised stores 7.8 8.8 0.7 7.2 0.6
Textile, clothing and footwear stores 12.2 -7.5 -0.9 -5.5 -0.7
Household goods stores 9.7 3.6 0.3 1.3 0.1
Other stores 13.5 2.5 0.3 0.7 0.1
           
Non-store retailing 4.9 13.5 0.7 12.6 0.6
           
Automotive fuel 10.2 -8.0 -0.8 -3.4 -0.3

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Amount spent in retail

In the four week period of April 2012 the total non-seasonally adjusted value of spending in the retail sector was estimated to be £25.9 billion. This compares with £32.6 billion in the five weeks of March 2012 and £26.1 billion in the four week period of April 2011.

In April 2012 the average weekly non-seasonally adjusted value of spending in the retail sector was estimated to be £6.5 billion.

Internet Sales

Key points

  • Internet average weekly sales values (non-seasonally adjusted) in April 2012 were estimated to be £489.0 million, an increase of 18.1 per cent when compared with April 2011.

  • Internet sales are now estimated to account for 8.5 per cent of all retail sales values excluding automotive fuel.

  • The non-store retailing sector has the largest proportion of Internet sales in April 2012 and now accounts for 60.6 per cent of all sales in this sector, up from 54.8 per cent in April 2011. The food sector has the lowest proportion of Internet sales which now accounts for 3.2 per cent in April 2012, up from 2.8 per cent in April 2011.

  • The average weekly value of Internet sales in April 2012 (non-seasonally adjusted) is estimated to be £489.0 million, up from £485.4 million in March 2012.

Internet sales in detail

The Internet sales statistics measure how much has been spent online through retailers in Great Britain. Figures are non-seasonally adjusted and the reference year is 2010=100. The table below shows the year-on-year growth for total Internet sales, each sector and the contribution that each sector makes to total Internet sales.

Internet sales summary of performance for April 2012

Category Weight Year on year growth Contribution to year on year growth
All retailing 100 18.1 :
All food 17.3 14.3 2.5
All non-food 41.4 14 5.8
  Department stores 7 28.2 2.0
  Textile, clothing and footwear stores 11.7 16.5 1.9
  Household goods stores 8.2 22.6 1.9
  Other stores 14.5 0.3 0.0
Non-store retailing 41.3 23.9 9.8

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Sector Analysis

Predominantly food stores sales volumes in April 2012 decreased by 3.5 per cent when compared with April 2011. Over the same period the value of sales increased by 0.1 per cent, the lowest ever rate of growth for this series which started in January 1989. Average price inflation in predominantly food stores was 3.7 per cent in the year to April 2012.

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £2.8 billion, more than any other sector; of this, 3.2 per cent of sales (£88.2 million) were made via the Internet.

Predominantly non-food stores sales volumes in April 2012 increased by 0.8 per cent compared with April 2011 while the value of sales increased by 0.2 per cent. Average prices showed deflation of 0.4 per cent in the year to April 2012, a switch from price inflation of 0.5 per cent in the year to March 2012

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £2.6 billion; of this 7.3 per cent of sales (£190.6 million) were made via the Internet.

Non-specialised stores sales volumes increased by 8.8 per cent in April 2012 when compared with April 2011. The volume increase was driven by price deflation of 1.3 per cent, the largest fall since March 2009 when prices fell by 1.4 per cent. The value of sales increased by 7.2 per cent in the year to April 2012.

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.5 billion; of this, 7.4 per cent of sales (£35.8 million) were made via the Internet.

Non-specialised stores, seasonally adjusted

Non-specialised stores, seasonally adjusted

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Textile, clothing and footwear stores sales volumes in April 2012 fell by 7.5 per cent when compared with April 2011, the largest fall since May 1991 (8.3 per cent). Sales values fell by 5.5 per cent over the same period, the largest fall since May 2009 (7.9 per cent). This sector saw price inflation of 2.2 per cent in April 2012 slowing from 3.3 per cent in March 2012, this is the lowest rise since December 2011 (2.0 per cent).

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.7 billion; of this, 8.5 per cent of sales (£63.7 million) were made via the Internet.

Household goods stores sales volumes rose by 3.6 per cent in April 2012 compared with April 2011, the largest rise since January 2011 (6.9 per cent). The value of sales rose by 1.3 per cent over the same period, the largest increase since a rise of 7.6 per cent in January 2011. Average prices are estimated to show deflation of 1.6 per cent, the largest fall in prices since January 2009 when prices were estimated to have fallen by 1.7 per cent.

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.6 billion; of this, 5.9 per cent of sales (£34.4 million) were made via the Internet.

Household goods stores, seasonally adjusted

Household goods stores, seasonally adjusted

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Other stores sales volumes increased by 2.5 per cent in the year to April 2012. Sales values increased by 0.7 per cent over the same period. Average prices are estimated to have fallen by 1.6 per cent in the year to April 2012, the largest fall since July 2009 (2.2 per cent).

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.8 billion; of this, 7.2 per cent of sales (£56.7 million) were made via the Internet.

Non-store retailing sales volumes increased by 13.5 per cent in April 2012 compared with April 2011. Sales values increased by 12.6 per cent over the same period. Average price deflation is estimated to be 0.9 per cent in the year to April 2012, the largest fall since November 2009 (1.4 per cent).

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.3 billion; of this, 60.6 per cent of sales (£210.2 million) were made via the Internet.

Predominantly automotive fuel stores sales volumes decreased by 8.0 per cent in the year to April 2012. Sales values decreased by 3.4 per cent in April 2012 compared with April 2011. Average prices are estimated to have increased by 5.2 per cent in the year to April 2012.

In April 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.8 billion.

Distribution Analysis

The table illustrates the mix of experiences among different sized retailers. It shows the distribution of the reported increase in sales values of businesses in the RSI sample, ranked by size of business (based on number of employment). For example, this shows that the largest retailers, with 100 or more employment, reported an average decrease in sales of 0.9 per cent between April 2011 and April 2012.

Increase in Reported Retail Sales Values between April 2011 and April 2012 Standard Reporting Periods (by size of business)

Number of employment Weights (%) Growth since April 2011 (%)
100+ 78.2 -0.9
40-99 2.4 9.8
10-39 6.3 9.5
0-9 13.2 -0.2

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Analysis of individual returns from businesses

The  reference table Analysis of individual returns (30.5 Kb Excel sheet) from businesses illustrates the extent to which individual businesses experienced actual changes in their sales between April 2011 and April 2012. The table contains information only from businesses that reported in both periods. Cells with values less than 10 are suppressed for some classification categories; this is denoted by n.a. Note that ‘large’ is defined as 100+ employment and 10–99 employment with annual turnover of more than £60 million, while ‘small and medium’ is defined as 0–99 employment.

Background notes

  1. Improvements to be introduced next month

    Following the user engagement seminar of Retail Sales Statistics on the 2 April 2012, ONS has decided to streamline the table publishing within the Retail Sales Statistical Bulletin. From the release of May 2012 data on 21 June 2012 tables 7, 8, 9, and 10 will merge with tables 1, 2, 3 and 4. All data found in the current tables will still be available in the new versions.

  2. What’s New

    As part of the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee there are changes to bank holidays in May and June 2012. The late May bank holiday, which would have fallen in the RSI June trading period, has been moved to the calendar month of June and an additional day’s holiday has been added. The change to the holidays will count as a statistical special event in line with ONS’s policy on Special Events. Users are therefore likely to see an effect in June 2012 data. ONS will include commentary with releases as usual, including commentary specifically to help users with the interpretation of statistics in these two months.  Nevertheless, caution should be taken when interpreting the monthly movements in affected outputs that involve May and June 2012.

    Code of Practice for Official Statistics

    National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference.

  3. Understanding the data

    Quick Guide to the Retail Sales Index (195 Kb Pdf) .

    Interpreting the data

    The Retail Sales Index (RSI) is derived from a monthly survey of 5,000 businesses in Great Britain. The sample represents the whole retail sector and includes all large retailers and a representative panel of smaller businesses. Collectively all of these businesses cover approximately 95 per cent of the retail sector in terms of turnover.

    The RSI covers sales only from businesses registered as retailers according to the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC), an internationally agreed convention for classifying industries. The retail sector is division 47 of the SIC 2007 and retailing is defined as the sale of goods to the general public for household consumption. Consequently, the RSI includes all Internet businesses whose primary function is retailing and also covers Internet sales by other British retailers, such as online sales by supermarkets, department stores and catalogue companies. The RSI does not cover household spending on services bought from the retail sector as it is designed to only cover goods. Respondents are asked to separate out the non-goods elements of their sales, for example income from cafeterias. Consequently, online sales of services by retailers, such as car insurance, would also be excluded.

    The monthly survey collects two figures from each sampled business: the total turnover for retail sales for the standard trading period, and a separate figure for sales made over the Internet. The total turnover will include Internet sales. The separation of the Internet sales figure allows an estimate relating to Internet sales to be calculated separately. 

    Definitions and explanations

    The value or current price series records the growth since the base period (currently 2008) of the value of sales ‘through the till’ before any adjustment for the effects of price changes.

    The volume or constant price series are constructed by removing the effect of price changes from the value series. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) is the main source of the information required on price changes. In brief, a deflator for each type of store (5-digit SIC) is derived by weighting together the CPI’s for the appropriate commodities, the weights being based on the pattern of sales in the base year. These deflators are then applied to the value data to produce volume series.

    The estimated prices of retail sales (sometimes called the implied price deflator) is derived by comparing the value and volume data non-seasonally adjusted. In general, this implied price deflator should be quite close to the retail component of the CPI.

    Use of the data

    The value and volume measures of retail sales estimates are widely used in private and public sector institutions, particularly by the Bank of England and Her Majesty’s Treasury, to assist in informed decision and policy making.

  4. Methods

    Information on retail sales methodology is available through our guidance and methodology pages.

    A video explaining retail sales is available on the ONS YouTube Channel at: ONS YouTube Channel.

    Composition of the data

    Estimates in the Statistical Bulletin are based on financial data collected through the monthly Retail Sales Inquiry. The response rates for the current month reflect the response rates at the time of publication. Late returns for the previous month’s data are included in the results each month. Response rates for historical periods are updated to reflect the current level of response at the time of this publication.

    Overall Response Rates

    Period   Turnover Questionnaire
    2012 Apr 90.9 66.4
    Mar 93.9 77.3
    Feb 97.8 80.1
      Jan 97.3 81.5

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    Seasonal Adjustment

    Seasonally adjusted estimates are derived by estimating and removing calendar effects (for example Easter moving between March and April) and seasonal effects (for example increased spending in December as a result of Christmas) from the non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) estimates. Seasonal adjustment is performed each month, and reviewed each year, using the standard, widely used software, X-12-ARIMA. Before adjusting for seasonality, prior adjustments are made for calendar effects (where statistically significant), such as returns that do not comply with the standard trading period (see section Methods, Calendar effects), bank holidays, Easter and the day of the week on which Christmas occurs.

    The data collected from the retail sales survey is the amount of money taken through the tills of retailers; these are non-seasonally adjusted data.  This data consists of three components:

    • trend which describes long-term or underlying movements within the data,

    • seasonal which describes regular variation around the trend, that is peaks and troughs within the time series, the most obvious in this case being the peak in December and the fall in January,

    • irregular or ‘noise’ for example deeper falls within the non-seasonally adjusted series due to harsh weather impacting on retail sales.

    To ease interpretation of the underlying movements in the data, the seasonal adjustment process estimates and removes the seasonal component to leave a seasonally adjusted time series consisting of the trend and irregular components. 

    In the non-seasonally adjusted retail sales index we see large rises in December each year and a fall in the following January, but these are not evident in the seasonally adjusted index. This peak in December is larger than the subsequent fall but the trend and irregular components in both months are likely to be similar, meaning that the movements in the unadjusted series are almost completely as a result of the seasonal pattern.

    Calendar effects

    The calculation of the RSI has an adjustment to compensate for calendar effects that arise from the differences in the reporting periods. The reporting period for April 2012 was 1 April 2012 to 28 April 2012, compared with 3 April 2011 to 30 April 2011 the previous year. For example, the annual growth in sales volume between April 2011 and April 2012 requires a 0.6 per cent adjustment to take account of the differences in reporting periods and other calendar effects.

    The table shows the difference between the calendar and seasonally adjusted estimates.

    Retail Sales, Calendar Effects, April 2012

    Year on year percentage change
    Value Volume
    Calendar adjusted 0.2 -1.5
    Seasonally adjusted 0.4 -1.1

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  5. Quality

    Basic quality information

    The standard reporting periods can change over time due to the movement of the calendar. Every five or six years the standard reporting periods are brought back into line by adding an extra week. For example, January is typically a four-week standard period but January 1986, 1991, 1996, 2002 and 2008 were all five-week standard periods. The non-seasonally adjusted estimates will still contain calendar effects. If the non-seasonally adjusted estimates are used for analysis this can lead to a distortion depending on the timing of the standard reporting period in relation to the calendar, previous reporting periods and how trading activity changes over time.

    The non-seasonally adjusted series contain elements relating to the impact of the standard reporting period, moving seasonality and trading day activity. When making comparisons it is recommended that users focus on the seasonally adjusted estimates as these have the systematic calendar related component removed. Due to the volatility of the monthly data, it is recommended that growth rates are calculated using an average of the latest three months of the seasonally adjusted estimates.

    When interpreting the data, consideration should be given to the relative weighted contributions of the sectors within the all retailing series. Based on SIC 2007 data, total retail sales consists of: predominantly food stores 41.7 per cent, predominantly non-food stores 43.2 per cent, non-store retailing 4.9 per cent and automotive fuel 10.2 per cent.

    Standard errors

    A measure of the accuracy of the RSI has been produced by estimating the standard errors of index movements. For more detail see the article by Winton, J and Ralph, J (2011) ‘Measuring the accuracy of the Retail Sales Index’, Economic & Labour Market Review, February 2011 (1.04 Mb Pdf) . (1.04 Mb Pdf)

    Summary quality report

    A Summary Quality Report (114 Kb Pdf) for the RSI describes, in detail the intended uses of the statistics presented in this publication, their general quality and the methods used to produce them.

    Revision triangles

    Revisions to data provide one indication of the reliability of key indicators. The table below shows summary information on the size and direction of the revisions which have been made to the volume data covering a five-year period. Note that changes in definition and classification mean that the revision analysis is not conceptually the same over time. A statistical test has been applied which has shown that the average revision in month-to-month statistics are not statistically different from zero.

    A spreadsheet giving these estimates and the calculations behind the averages in the table is available on the ONS website.

    All Retailing, Volume Seasonally Adjusted, Revision Triangles Summary, April 2012

    Growth in latest period (per cent) Revisions between first publication and estimates twelve months later (percentage points)
    Average over the last five years (mean revision) Average over the last five years without regard to sign (average absolute revision)
    Latest three months compared with previous three months 0.2 -0.23 0.34
    Latest month compared with previous month -2.3 -0.08 0.44

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  6. Relevant links

    Methodological changes were introduced in the April 2009 and January 2010 releases. For more detail see:

    More details on changes in 2009 include

    For videos on retail sales please see the ONS YouTube Channel.

  7. Publication policy

    Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available from the Media Relations Office. Also available is a list of the organisations given pre-publication access (38.5 Kb Pdf)   to the contents of this bulletin.

  8. Accessing data

    The complete run of data in the tables of this statistical bulletin is available to view and download in electronic format using the ONS Time Series Data service. Users can download the complete bulletin in a choice of zipped formats, or view and download their own sections of individual series. The Time Series Data can be accessed at: info@ons.gsi.gov.uk

  9. Copyright and reproduction

    © Crown copyright 2012

    Under the terms of the Open Government Licence and UK Government Licensing Framework, anyone wishing to use or re-use ONS material, whether commercially or privately, may do so freely without a specific application for a licence, subject to the conditions of the OGL and the Framework.

    For further information, contact the Office of Public Sector Information, Crown Copyright Licensing and Public Sector Information, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU.

    Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444

    Email psi@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk

  10. 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.

Statistical contacts

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Kate Davies +44 (0)1633 455602 ONS kate.davies@ons.gsi.gov.uk
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