1. Main points

  • In April 2018, the quantity of goods bought in the retail industry remained relatively flat with a slight increase of 0.1% in the three-month on three-month movement.

  • When compared with March 2018, the quantity bought in April increased by 1.6% as all sectors, excluding department stores, recovered from the declines seen in March.

  • Department stores showed a different monthly picture to all other sectors as the only sector to report a fall in quantities bought, at negative 0.9% in April following strong online sales in March.

  • Petrol sales reported the largest recovery in April, with a growth of 4.7% compared with a decline of negative 6.9% in the previous month as road closures affected travel in March.

  • Removing the monthly volatility, the combined two months of March and April compared with the same periods a year earlier showed a general slowdown to growth at 1.3% for March and April 2018 when compared with 2.9% for March and April 2017.

  • Online sales as a proportion of all retailing continued to grow year-on-year at 17.3% in April 2018, in comparison with 16.1% in April 2017; with food and clothing stores achieving record online proportions.

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2. Statistician’s comment

Commenting on today’s official retail figures, Rob Kent-Smith, Head of National Accounts said:

"Retail sales bounced back in April, as petrol and other sales recovered from the snowfall. But the underlying position remains subdued with the volume of goods sold over the last six months broadly unchanged.

"Increases were seen across all sectors in April, except department stores. Department stores declined following relatively strong sales last month, when their online sales were boosted during the adverse weather.

"Over the longer-term, retail sales growth has slowed considerably, with increases in food, household goods and internet retailers being largely offset by declines across all other types of retailing."

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3. 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 1 April 2018 to 28 April 2018.

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 an important 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 RSI Quality and Methodology Information report.

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4. Main figures for total retail sales

In April 2018, we saw growth for both the quantity bought (volume) and the amount spent (value) in the retail industry for all estimates (Table 1).

The quantity bought and amount spent increased by 1.4% and 3.5% respectively when compared with both the same month to a year earlier and the three months to a year earlier. There was little movement to growth in the three months to April, with a slight increase of 0.1% in the quantity bought compared with the previous three months.

The monthly growth rates show a different picture to the underlying trend with the quantity of goods bought increasing by 1.6%. However, this can be volatile and a longer-term picture is needed to understand this growth (Figure 1).

Figure 1 shows the volatility in the monthly Retail Sales Index against the more stable rolling three month-on-three month movement. The underlying trend in the three months to April 2018 remains relatively flat, with a growth of just 0.1% and has been very flat for the last six months. This is in contrast to the continued period of stronger growth seen at the beginning of the series, as the quantity bought increased at a faster rate during 2015 and 2016.

The volatile monthly movement shows periods of declines and recovery. In April 2018, the monthly growth rate of 1.6% recovers from a fall of 1.1% in March (Figure 2).

Figure 2 shows that the quantity bought in all sectors except department stores increased when compared with the previous month.

While most sectors recovered from the adverse weather experienced in March, department stores show a different picture as the only sector to report a fall, at negative 0.9% in April following stronger online sales in March.

Petrol sales reported the largest recovery in April, with a growth of 4.7% compared with a decline of negative 6.9% in the previous month, with road closures affecting travel in March.

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5. The weather effect on growth in retail sales

The effects of the adverse weather on sales introduces further volatility to the monthly growth rate in April 2018. Combining March and April to compare the two months with the same two months a year earlier provides a more stable picture of the year-on-year growth (Figure 3).

Despite the seemingly large growth in April 2018, when the decline in March 2018 is included, the two months combined show a slowdown to growth when compared with the growth to March and April 2017.

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6. What’s the story in online sales?

Internet sales increased by 11.7% for the amount spent in April 2018 when compared with April 2017, with all sectors reporting growth on the year (Table 2).

Department stores and textile, clothing and footwear stores reported strong growth on the year of 25.2% and 24.4% respectively, but department stores declined on the month following record online sales in March.

The month-on-month picture was one of reduced growth with internet sales falling by negative 0.4% in April 2018 when compared with March. Despite this, online sales as a proportion of all retailing remained strong at 17.3% (Table 2).

Food, and textile, clothing and footwear stores achieved record online proportions of retailing of 5.6% and 17.1% respectively.

Figure 5 highlights the strong positive contribution to growth made by food to online sales in April 2018 when compared with March 2018, which helped to lessen the impact of the falls seen in both non-food stores and non-store retailing.

Within non-food stores, department stores and household goods stores were the driving force behind the fall in online spending despite increases in both textile, clothing and footwear stores and other stores.

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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 report 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
retail.sales.enquiries@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455602