Retail sales, Great Britain: February 2020

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

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Release date:
26 March 2020

Next release:
23 April 2020

1. Main points

  • In the three months to February 2020, the quantity bought in retail sales fell for the fourth consecutive month by 0.6%; this was across all stores except non-store retailing.

  • In February 2020, the monthly growth rate in the quantity bought fell by 0.3%, with a range of retailers providing feedback on the adverse effect of the extreme rainfall on sales.

  • When compared with the same month a year earlier, February 2020 remained flat; the lowest year-on-year growth rate since March 2013 at negative 1.6%.

  • Online sales as a proportion of all retailing was 19.6% in February 2020, up from the 19.1% reported in January 2020.

  • The data collection for the period was completed by 29 February and is largely unaffected by recent developments with the coronavirus; however, a small number of retailers suggested that online orders shipped from China were reduced because of the impact of COVID-19.

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2. Retail sales in February

In the three months to February 2020, both the amount spent and the quantity bought in the retail industry fell by 0.1% and 0.6% respectively when compared with the previous three months (Table 1).

The monthly picture was also one of decline at negative 0.5% and negative 0.3% for the amount spent and the quantity bought respectively.

When compared with a year earlier, the amount spent increased by 0.7%, while the quantity bought remained flat; the lowest year-on-year growth in the quantity bought since March 2013.

Figure 1 shows the longer-term trend in the retail sector.

Figure 1 shows the quantity bought in retail sales over time for both the rolling three-month on three-month and the month-on-month movement.

In contrast to the stronger rate of growth seen at the beginning of the series, there has been a slowdown in the quantity bought since June 2019 and successive declines in the three-month on three-month movement from November 2019. The quantity bought in February 2020 when compared with the previous three months fell by 0.6%.

The volatile monthly movement in February 2020 shows a fall of 0.3% following growth of 1.1% in January.

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3. Retail Sales growth by sector

Table 2 shows the month-on-month and the three-month on three-month growth rate in the quantity bought for each retail sector in February 2020.

The monthly growth rate shows that the overall decline of 0.3% was because of falls in food stores, department stores and non-store retailing. There was a large decline of 2.8% in non-store retailing, with feedback from retailers suggesting that extreme rainfall affected markets and stalls in this sector, while a limited number of online retailers commented on a reduction of sales shipped from China because of the impact of COVID-19.

Showing a contrasting picture in the three months to February, non-store retailing was the only sector to show an increase in the quantity bought at 0.7%. This was mainly because of healthy growth rates in the previous two months at 1.1% in December 2019 and 2.7% in January 2020.

There was no growth in February 2020 when compared with February 2019; the lowest year-on-year growth rate in the quantity bought since March 2013. While a growth rate of 4.2% for non-store retailing remains strong, this is the lowest growth rate in this sector since August 2012.

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4. Month-on-month contributions to growth by sector

Figure 2 displays the contribution by sector to month-on-month growth in February 2020, with the amount spent at negative 0.5% and the quantity bought at negative 0.3%.

Non-store retailing was the largest negative contributor to the amount spent and quantity bought, both at negative 0.3 percentage points.

Food stores also declined in the quantity bought, while fuel stores saw an increase.

Contributions from non-food stores and fuel stores both declined for the amount spent in February.

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5. Year-on-year contributions to growth by sector

The contribution to year-on-year growth in February 2020, for both the amount spent at 0.7% and the quantity bought, flat (0.0%), can be seen in Figure 3.

Food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the amount spent at 0.7 percentage points; whereas non-store retailing was the largest positive contributor to the quantity bought at 0.5 percentage points. This was offset by a negative contribution of 0.4 percentage points from fuel stores, resulting in a flat year-on-year growth.

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6. What else is happening in February’s retail sales?

The reporting period for February 2020 was from 2 to 29 February. We collect anecdotal information from businesses to help interpret the data. A number of retailers from many store types commented on the adverse effects on their business from either the rainy weather or COVID-19 during this time (Table 3).

The weather

As seen in Table 3, the majority of comments suggested an impact to turnover in February related to the adverse weather. The Met Office also stated that the country experienced a record amount of rainfall for the month of February, which was also the fifth-wettest calendar month in a series since 1862.

Non-essential stores within non-food stores mentioned that they experienced a reduction to footfall, and markets and stalls were adversely affected within non-store retailing.


The data collection for the period was completed by 29 February and is largely unaffected by recent developments. The majority of comments relating to COVID-19 were from retailers within clothing and other non-stores, while some sales within non-store retailing were said to be affected by products arriving from China.

See Section 10, Measuring the data, for more information about the implications of COVID-19 for the collection of our statistics.

Leap year

The month of February 2020 also includes a leap year, meaning that there was an extra day of trading on 29 February. Given that the retail sales reports on either a four- or a five- week period, the retail estimates are unaffected and no leap year corrections in our analysis were applied.

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7. Online sales

Table 4 shows the month-on-month and year-on-year growth rates for the amount spent online, in addition to the proportion of online sales. The percentage weights indicate where money is spent online.

Online spending increased in February 2020 at 2.0% when compared with January 2020, with strong growth in all sectors within non-food stores. Textile, clothing and footwear stores saw the largest increase at 11.0%, while non-store retailing was the only sector to show a decline at 0.7%.

Internet sales increased by 5.0% in February 2020, when compared with February 2019. Department stores and other stores were the only sectors to show a decline at 9.3% and 0.6% respectively. Textile, clothing and footwear stores reported the largest increase in sales at 14.9%.

Online sales as a proportion of all retailing was 19.6% in February 2020, an increase from January 2020 at 19.1%.

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8. Retail Sales data

Retail Sales Index
Dataset | Released 26 March 2020
A series of retail sales data for Great Britain in value and volume terms, seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted.

Retail Sales pounds data
Dataset | Released 26 March 2020
Total sales and average weekly spending estimates for each retail sector in Great Britain in £ thousands.

Retail Sales Index internet sales
Dataset | Released 26 March 2020
Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.

Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights
Dataset | Released 26 March 2020
Retail sales categories and descriptions and their percentage of all retailing in Great Britain.

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9. Glossary

Value (amount spent)

The value estimates reflect the total turnover that businesses have collected over a standard period.

Volume (quantity bought)

The volume estimates are calculated by taking the value estimates and adjusting to remove the impact of price changes.

Seasonally adjusted

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.

Non-seasonally adjusted

Non-seasonally adjusted estimates refer to raw data where the effects of regular or seasonal patterns have not been removed.

Non-store retailing

Non-store retailing refers to retailers that do not have a store presence. While the majority is made up of online retailers, it also includes other retailers such as stalls and markets.

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10. Measuring the data

This bulletin presents estimates of the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) in the retail industry for the four-week period 2 February 2020 to 29 February 2020.

Unless otherwise stated, the estimates in this release are seasonally adjusted.

Retail sales collects turnover data from retailers, which is money through the till before any deductions, including refunded items. This provides us with the best indicator for consumer spending during the reference period.

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) measures the value and volume of retail sales in Great Britain on a monthly basis. Data are collected from 5,000 businesses in the retail industry, with all businesses employing over 100 people or with an annual turnover of more than £60 million receiving an online questionnaire every month. 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 price changes).


More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Retail sales QMI.

This year, with another full year’s data, we will be undertaking our annual update of our commodity deflators to improve our estimates of volumes sold.


We are aware of the upcoming challenges relating to the pandemic outbreak, particularly for retail sales, which will be impacted by store closures. However, the monthly retail sales questionnaire is fully online, meaning that retailers can log on from any location and submit their data at an appropriate time.

Our latest data and analysis on the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the UK economy and population is now available on a new webpage. This will be the hub for all special virus-related publications, drawing on all available data.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released a public statement on COVID-19 and the production of statistics. Specific queries must be directed to the Media Relations Office.

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11. Strengths and limitations

Uses and users

The Retail Sales Index (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 HM Treasury to assist in informed decision- and policy-making.

Comparability to international data

The most recent international estimate of retail sales available for February 2020 was published by the US Census Bureau on 17 March 2020. In its advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, February 2020 (PDF, 1.52MB) they include the amount spent in the US retail industry, including motor vehicles and parts and food services.

Data for Northern Ireland are published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

It should be noted that accurate comparisons cannot be made against these or other international statistics for a variety of reasons, including differences in methodology.

Eurostat also published their latest estimates of the Volume of retail trade (PDF, 228KB) across the European Union on 4 March 2020 for January 2020. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the euro area (EA19) and EU28 when compared with December 2019.

As the UK leaves the EU, it is important that our statistics continue to be of high quality and are internationally comparable. During the transition period, those UK statistics that align with EU practice and rules will continue to do so in the same way as before 31 January 2020.

After the transition period, we will continue to produce our national accounts statistics in line with the UK Statistics Authority’s Code of Practice for Statistics and in accordance with internationally agreed statistical guidance and standards.

The Withdrawal Agreement outlines a need for UK gross national income (a fundamental component of the national accounts, which includes gross domestic product (GDP)) statistics to remain in line with those of other EU countries until the EU budgets are finalised for the years in which we were a member. To ensure comparability during this cycle, the national accounts will continue to be produced according to European System of Accounts (ESA) 2010 definitions and standards.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Rhian Murphy
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 456495