Retail sales, Great Britain: April 2017

A first estimate of retail sales in volume and value terms, seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted.

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Release date:
18 May 2017

Next release:
15 June 2017

1. Main points

  • In April 2017, the quantity bought in the retail industry increased by 2.3% compared with March 2017 and by 4.0% compared with April 2016.

  • The underlying pattern, as measured by the 3 month on 3 month estimate, showed a slight increase in April 2017 following a short period of contraction, increasing by 0.3%.

  • Anecdotal evidence from retailers suggests that good weather contributed to growth.

  • Average prices slowed slightly in April 2017, falling from 3.3% in March to 3.1% in April.

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2. Things you need to know about this release

This bulletin presents estimates of the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) in the retail industry for the period 2 April 2017 to 29 April 2017. Unless otherwise stated, the estimates in this release are seasonally adjusted.

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) measures the value and volume of retail sales in Great Britain on a monthly basis. Data are collected from businesses in the retail industry and the survey’s results are used to produce seasonally adjusted monthly, quarterly and annual estimates of output in the retail industry at current price and at chained volume measures (removing the effect of inflation). Unless otherwise stated all estimates included in this release are based on seasonally adjusted data.

The RSI is a key economic indicator and one of the earliest short-term measures of economic activity. It is used in the compilation of the national accounts and widely used by private and public sector institutions, particularly by the Bank of England and Her Majesty’s Treasury to assist in informed decision and policy making.

Summary information can be found in the Summary Quality and Methodology Information document.

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3. Main figures

Table 1 shows the main retail sales growth rates for all retailing for both the value and volume of sales in April 2017.

Table 1 shows that all estimates of retail sales in April 2017 grew for both the quantity bought and amount spent, however, to understand these estimates and what it means for the retail industry a longer-term picture is needed as shown in Figures 1 and 2.

Quantity bought

Between 2010 and the end of 2013, the quantity bought in the retail sector remained relatively flat. The underlying pattern then changed to one of strong growth, lasting for a record period of 36 months, before starting to fall at the end of 2016.

The April 2017 results show a slight return to growth in the 3 month on 3 month measure but as Figure 1 shows, the volatility of the month-on-month estimates are a contributing factor. Several periods of growth in the 3 month on 3 month rate are needed before we can say that the underlying pattern has returned to one of growth.

Amount spent

The longer-term picture in the amount spent as shown in Figure 2, is different to that expressed in Figure 1 for the quantity bought. Since 2010, there has been an almost constant increase in the amount spent, slowing slightly throughout 2015 to the middle of 2016, returning back to much stronger growth.

Average store prices

Average store prices show a different picture again. In recent months average store prices have increased at a strong rate that has not been seen since 2010 (Figure 3).

Consistent with CPI, the slowing rate of inflation in fuel prices has contributed to the slowing of average prices in the retail industry in April 2017, increasing by 3.1%; down from 3.3% in March 2017.

On the month, average prices fell by 0.2%. Note that prices in the retail industry are highly seasonal, however, the fall into April 2017 does not follow the historic seasonal pattern.

The main difference between average store prices and the CPI arises from retail sales covering goods only, whereas the CPI also includes services. Air transport was the main contribution to the increase in CPI in April but this would not be covered by the RSI average price series.

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4. Year-on-year contribution

In April 2017 compared with April 2016, the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) increased across all main retail sectors (Figure 4 and Table 2). The largest contribution in both the quantity bought and the amount spent came from non-store retailing, while moderate year-on-year growth in the value series for fuel stores resulted in no contribution to the total figure.

Over the last 12 months, all retailer types have seen growth with the exception of department stores. Department stores have seen a decrease in the quantity bought whilst the amount spent increased, which coincides with price increases in the sector. Overall, average store prices have seen year-on-year growth across all sectors, with the largest increase noted in fuel stores.

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5. Month-on-month contribution

The monthly picture, as seen in Figure 5 and Table 3, shows that all main retail sectors saw increases in the quantity bought (volume) and the amount spent (value). The largest contributions to increases in both the quantity bought and the amount spent came from non-food stores.

Compared with March 2017, April 2017 has shown increases in the quantity bought and amount spent across all store types except department stores and textile, clothing and footwear stores. This coincides with monthly falls in average store prices across all retailers except food stores and textile, clothing and footwear stores.

The latest Consumer Prices Index publication reported monthly increases in clothing prices and drops in the prices of motor fuel, which is in line with the movement of average store prices in fuel stores and textile, clothing and footwear stores.

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6. What’s the story in online sales?

Internet sales are estimates of how much was spent online through retailers across all store types in Great Britain.

Table 4 shows the year-on-year growth rates for total internet sales by sector and the proportion of sales made online in each retail sector.

In April 2017:

  • average weekly spending online was £1.0 billion; an increase of 19% compared with April 2016
  • the amount spent online accounted for 15.6% of all retail spending, excluding automotive fuel, compared with 14% in April 2016
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8. Quality and methodology

Our Monthly Business Survey (MBS) for retail sales measures output from the retail industry in Great Britain. It samples 5,000 businesses, with all businesses employing over 100 people or with an annual turnover of more than £60 million receiving an online questionnaire every month.

Further qualitative data or information and summary tables can be found in the attached datasets. This includes data on:

  • response rates
  • standard errors
  • revision triangle
  • distribution analysis

The Retail sales Quality and Methodology Information document contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data
  • uses and users of the data
  • how the output was created
  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data
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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Rhian Murphy
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455602