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

Released: 20 April 2012 Download PDF

Key points

  • Value of retail sales in March 2012 increased by 5.7 per cent when compared with March 2011.
  • Sales volumes in March 2012 increased by 3.3 per cent when compared with March 2011.
  • Sales volumes growth was driven by other stores, non-store retailing and predominantly automotive fuel.
  • The year-on-year implied price deflator in March 2012 rose to 2.5 per cent from 2.4 per cent in February 2012.
  • Internet sales values (non-seasonally adjusted) in March 2012 increased by 15.2 per cent compared with March 2011.
  • Internet sales are now estimated to account for 8.5 per cent of all retail sales values excluding automotive fuel.

Key figures

All retailing, March 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  5.7 4.3 1.8 1.2
Volume 3.3 1.9 1.8 0.8
Value excluding automotive fuel 4.9 3.6 1.5 1.0
Volume excluding automotive fuel 2.8 1.6 1.5 0.9

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A podcast video is available on the ONS You Tube Channel.

At a glance

In March 2012 the all retail sales volumes index increased by 3.3 per cent compared with March 2011 and increased by 1.8 per cent compared with February 2012.

The all retail sales values index increased by 5.7 per cent compared with March 2011 and increased by 1.8 per cent compared with February 2012.

One of the main drivers for value and volume increases (year-on-year and month-on-month) came from sales by predominantly automotive fuel stores.

Predominantly automotive fuel stores

The predominantly automotive fuel store sector consists of those retailers whose sell predominantly automotive fuel and includes petrol forecourt sales at supermarkets. 

Figure 1 shows the seasonally adjusted index level of both sales volumes and sales values for this sector over the period January 2010 to March 2012. It can be seen that sales values have increased at a relatively strong rate over this period with sales volumes increasing but at a slower rate than sales values.

Figure 1, predominantly automotive fuel stores, seasonally adjusted

Figure 1, predominantly automotive fuel stores, seasonally adjusted

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The graph shows that sales volumes and values increased at a faster rate in March 2012, than in previous periods. In March 2012 sales volumes increased by 4.9 per cent and sales values increased by 4.2 per cent when compared with February 2012.

Figure 2, sales volume month-on-month seasonally adjusted growth: predominantly automotive fuel

Figure 2, sales volume month-on-month seasonally adjusted growth: predominantly automotive fuel

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Figure 2 shows the month-on-month growth rates in sales volumes at predominantly automotive fuel stores. For both the value and volume series the increase in March 2012 is the largest monthly increase since January 2011 when sales values and volumes bounced back from a fall in December 2010 caused by harsh winter weather. However, the growth in the volume series brings the index back to the level it was in December 2011.

The monthly increase in sales volumes and values was a result of consumers purchasing more fuel in case the threat of a fuel strike in the latter part of the month came to reality. However, there was also feedback from retailers in this sector that smaller stores lost out on trade when they were forced to close after the rush to buy fuel forced them to close and could not re-open until they restocked.

Figure 2 illustrates the volatility in the monthly growth rate series and thus the figures should be used with some caution. Looking at a longer-term picture we see that between March 2011 and March 2012 this sector saw:

• sales volumes increase by 7.2 per cent
• sales values increase by 12.0 per cent 

indicating that consumers were buying more than they did a year ago and also spending more at these stores. The prices of goods sold through predominantly automotive fuel stores, which includes food, drink and motoring goods as well as fuel, are estimated to have increased by 4.9 per cent between March 2011 and March 2012. This is in line with the 12-month CPI rate for fuel and lubricants which increased by 4.6 per cent. 

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. 

Year on year growth rates and contributions 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 3.3   5.7  
           
Predominantly food stores 41.7 -0.6 -0.3 3.7 1.6
           
Predominantly non-food stores          
Total 43.2 4.6 2.0 5.0 2.2
Non-specialised stores 7.8 4.8 0.4 3.8 0.3
Textile, clothing and footwear stores 12.2 3.7 0.5 6.9 0.9
Household goods stores 9.7 2.5 0.2 2.0 0.2
Other stores 13.5 6.8 0.9 5.9 0.8
           
Non-store retailing 4.9 13.4 0.8 13.1 0.7
           
Automotive fuel 10.2 7.2 0.8 12.0 1.2

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Amount spent in retail

In the five week period of March 2012 the total non-seasonally adjusted value of spending in the retail sector was estimated to be £32.6 billion. This compares with £24.6 billion in the four weeks of February 2012 and £30.7 billion in the five week period of March 2011.

In March 2012 the average non-seasonally adjusted value of spending in the retail sector was estimated to be £6.5 billion. This compares with £6.2 billion in February 2012 and £6.1 billion in March 2011. 

Internet sales

The experimental label for Internet sales has now been removed and a new set of statistics has been made available. These include by sector:

  • non-seasonally adjusted value indices,

  • year-on-year growth rates,

  • average weekly Internet sales in pounds million,

  • internet sales as proportion of all retailing.

All data for these statistics can be found in the RSI tables March 2012 (1.71 Mb Excel sheet) and are labelled with the code ISCPNSA. 

To ensure that Internet sales are consistent with retail sales the estimation method used for Internet sales has been changed to ratio estimation instead of an expansion estimator (see A quick guide to retail sales (116.9 Kb Pdf) ). As a result, the back series for Internet sales as a proportion of all retailing has been revised. 

Key points:

  • internet sales values (non-seasonally adjusted) in March 2012 increased by 15.2 per cent compared with March 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 March 2012 and now accounts for 59.9 per cent of all sales in this sector, up from 54.9 per cent in March 2011. The food sector has the lowest proportion of Internet sales which now accounts for 3.1 per cent, up from 2.8 per cent

  • the average weekly value of Internet sales in March 2012 (non-seasonally adjusted) is estimated to be £484.0 million, up from £475.0million in February 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 2008=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 March 2012

Category Weight Year on year growth Contribution to year on year growth
All retailing 100 15.2
All food 17.3 15.3 2.6
All non-food 41.4 7.6 3.1
Department stores 7 14.8 1.0
Textile, clothing and footwear stores 11.7 27 3.1
Household goods stores 8.2 16.4 1.3
Other stores 14.5 -15.6 -2.3
Non-store retailing 41.3 22.7 9.4

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Sector analysis

Predominantly food stores sales volumes in March 2012 decreased by 0.6 per cent when compared with March 2011. Due to average prices rising by 4.4 per cent over the same period the value of sales increased by 3.7 per cent.

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £2.7 billion; of this 3.1 per cent of sales (£82.6 million) were made via the Internet.

Predominantly food stores, seasonally adjusted

Predominantly food stores, seasonally adjusted

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Predominantly non-food stores sales volumes in March 2012 increased by 4.6 per cent from sales volumes in March 2011 while the value of sales increased by 5.0 per cent. The increase in sales volumes and values were due to increases in each of the component sectors. Average prices are estimated to have risen 0.4 per cent in the year to March 2012.

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £2.6 billion; of this 7.2 per cent of sales (£188.3 million) were made via the Internet.

Predominantly non-food stores, seasonally adjusted

Predominantly non-food stores, seasonally adjusted

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Non-specialised stores sales volumes increased by 4.8 per cent in March 2012 when compared with March 2011. The volume increase was driven by price deflation of 0.9 per cent, the largest fall since a fall of 1.1 per cent in August 2009. The value of sales increased by 3.8 per cent in the year to March 2012.

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.5 billion; of this 7.1 per cent of sales (£33.4 million) were made via the Internet.

Textile, clothing and footwear stores sales volumes in March 2012 rose by 3.7 per cent when compared with March 2011. Sales values increased by 6.9 per cent over the same period. Average annual price inflation increased to 3.3 per cent in March 2012 from 2.3 per cent in February 2012, the highest rise since October 2011 (3.8 per cent).

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.7 billion; of this 9.1 per cent of sales (£67.7 million) were made via the Internet.

Household goods stores sales volumes rose by 2.5 per cent in March 2012 compared with March 2011. The value of sales rose by 2.0 per cent over the same period, the largest increase since a rise of 7.7 per cent in January 2011. Average prices switched to inflation of 0.1 per cent in March 2012 from average price deflation of 0.7 per cent in February 2012.

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.6 billion; of this 5.9 per cent of sales (£33.4 million) were made via the Internet.

Other stores sales volumes increased by 6.8 per cent in the year to March 2012. Sales values increased by 5.9 per cent over the same period. Average prices are estimated to have fallen by 1.1 per cent in the year to March 2012, the largest fall since July 2009 (-2.2 per cent).

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.8 billion, of this 6.5 per cent of sales (£54.2 million) were made via the Internet.

Non-store retailing sales volumes increased by 13.4 per cent in March 2012 compared with March 2011. Sales values increased by 13.1 per cent over the same period. Average price deflation is estimated to be 0.2 per cent in the year to March 2012.

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.4 billion; of this 59.9 per cent of sales (£213.1 million) were made via the Internet.

Non-store retailing, seasonally adjusted

Non-store retailing, seasonally adjusted

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Predominantly automotive fuel stores sales volumes increased by 7.2 per cent in the year to March 2012. Sales values increased by 12.0 per cent in March 2012 compared with March 2011. Average prices are estimated to have increased by 4.9 per cent in the year to March 2012, the lowest annual increase since October 2009 (-0.8 per cent).

In March 2012 the estimated average weekly sales were £0.9 billion.

Distribution analysis

The table below 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 increase in sales of 5.7 per cent between March 2011 and March 2012.

Increase in reported retail sales values between March 2011 and March 2012 standard reporting periods (by size and of business)

Number of employment Weights (%) Growth since March 2011 (%)
100+ 77.9 5.7
40-99 2.5 19.6
10-39 6.2 12.0
0-9 13.4 6.9

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Analysis of individual returns from businesses

The table illustrates the extent to which individual businesses experienced actual changes in their sales between March 2011 and March 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.

RFT RSI Analysis of individual returns from businesses March 2012 (30.5 Kb Excel sheet)

Background notes

  1. What’s new?

    • Detailed industry level seasonally adjusted data are published for the first time in Tables 9 and 10. This allows users to analyse seasonally adjusted data in greater detail.

    • Following the continued development of Internet retail sales, ONS has removed the experimental label. A value non-seasonally adjusted index, year-on-year growth rates, average weekly sales and proportion of total turnover, including sector breakdown, are now available for Internet sales.

  2. 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.

    © Crown copyright 2012.

  3. Understanding the data

    Quick Guide to the Retail Sales Index (116.9 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, e.g. income from cafeterias. Consequently on-line 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 Price 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.

    Experimental statistics are those which are in the testing phase and are not yet fully developed. The main reason why the Internet retail sales are designated as experimental is that the methods and data sources are still being improved. Here is more information on the   internet retail sales strategy.

    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 in the Guidance and methodolgy section of the ONS website.

    A video explaining retail sales is available on the 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

    Overall response rates
    Period Turnover (per cent) Forms(per cent)
    2012 Mar 90.1 64.0
    Feb 97.3 78.4
    Jan 97.0 81.4
    2011 Dec 97.0 81.0

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    Seasonal adjustment

    Seasonally adjusted estimates are derived by estimating and removing calendar effects (e.g. 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 Christmas occurs.

    The data collected from the retail sales survey is the amount of money taken through the tills of retailers; this is 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 March 2012 was 26 February 2012 to 31 March 2012, compared with 27 February 2011 to 2 April 2011 the previous year. For example, the annual growth in sales volume between March 2011 and March 2012 requires a -0.3 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.

    Calendar effects

    Year on year percentage change
    Value Volume
    Calendar adjusted 5.8 3.2
    Seasonally adjusted 5.7 3.3

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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)

    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 March 2012

    Volume seasonally adjusted
    Revisions between first publication and estimates twelve months later (percentage points)
    Growth in latest period (per cent) 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 0.8 0.23 0.33
           
    Latest month compared with previous month 1.8 -0.09 0.43

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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 You Tube 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  to the contents of this bulletin (38.5 Kb Pdf) .

  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.gov.uk

  9. 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

Name Phone Department Email
Kate Davies +44 (0)1633 455617 ONS kate.davies@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Get all the tables for this publication in the data section of this publication .
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