Retail sales, Great Britain: July 2020

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

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Release date:
21 August 2020

Next release:
18 September 2020

1. Main points

  • In July 2020, retail sales volumes increased by 3.6% when compared with June, and are 3.0% above pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

  • In July, the volume of food store sales and non-store retailing remained at high sales levels, despite monthly contractions in these sectors at negative 3.1% and 2.1% respectively.

  • In July, fuel sales continued to recover from low sales levels but were still 11.7% lower than February; recent analysis shows that car road traffic in July was around 17 percentage points lower compared with the first week in February, according to data from the Department for Transport.

  • Clothing store sales were the worst hit during the pandemic and volume sales in July remained 25.7% lower than February, even with a July 2020 monthly increase of 11.9% in this sector.

  • Online retail sales fell by 7.0% in July when compared with June, but the strong growth experienced over the pandemic has meant that sales are still 50.4% higher than February’s pre-pandemic levels.

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2. Retail sales in July

Table 1 provides a snapshot of what is happening in the retail sales industry in July 2020 with both value and volume growth rates.

In July, retail sales continued to recover as the value of sales increased by 4.4% and volume sales by 3.6% when compared with the previous month. When compared with February 2020’s pre-pandemic level, total retail sales were 1.7% and 3.0% higher in value and volume terms respectively.

When compared with the previous three months, a stronger rate of growth is seen in the three months to July, at 5.1% and 6.1% for value and volume sales respectively. This was following eight consecutive months of decline in the three-month on three-month growth rate.

The only measure to show a decline is the three months to July when compared with the same three months a year earlier, with a fall of 5.3% for value sales and a fall of 4.1% for volume sales.

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3. Retail sales during the coronavirus pandemic

In July 2020, we see continued growth in retail sales volumes, increasing by 3.6% from June and recovering from the sharp falls during lockdown. Retail sales volumes were 3.0% higher in July when compared with February 2020.

While total retail sales may be recovering in July, the wider economy still entered a technical recession in Quarter 2 (April to June) 2020. Recent analysis on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic looked at the output measure of gross domestic product (GDP). In Quarter 2 2020, the economy shrank by a further 20.4% from the fall of 2.2% in Quarter 1 (January to March) 2020 and is 17.2% smaller than in February 2020.

Growth in the retail sales industry contributes approximately 5.4% to GDP. As we see unprecedented changes to the economy, the pandemic has also changed the shape of the retail industry. Despite total levels of sales increasing to slightly above pre-pandemic levels, not all retail sectors experienced this bounce back (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Food and non-store retailing were at higher levels than before the pandemic, while non-food and fuel still remained lower than February 2020

Volume sales, seasonally adjusted, Great Britain, July 2018 to July 2020

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Source: Office for National Statistics – Monthly Business Survey – Retail Sales Inquiry

Looking at the main retail sectors, we see a different picture for each store type. For food and non-store retailing, levels remained higher than before the pandemic, while non-food and fuel sales are still below their pre-pandemic levels.

The monthly growth rates seen in July 2020 for non-food at 10.0% and fuel at 26.2% show some recovery, however, these strong monthly growths are from exceptionally low levels. In July, volume sales within non-food stores were still 6.6% lower than February 2020 and for fuel, 11.7% lower than February. Recent analysis shows that in July, car road traffic was around 17 percentage points lower compared with the first week in February, according to data from the Department for Transport.

Despite a fall of 3.1% in July for food stores, volume sales were still 2.4% higher than February 2020. The monthly fall in food store sales could be explained by the re-opening of restaurants and bars from 4 July (Figure 2 in this release), as consumers’ retail food bills reduced as they began to eat out.

For non-store retailing, there was some contraction in June and July 2020 from the sharp growth in March, April and May 2020; possibly an impact of an increasing number of retail stores re-opening. The monthly decline in July of 2.1% in non-store still results in volume sales being 49.2% higher than pre-pandemic levels in February.

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4. Non-food store recovery since the pandemic

Figure 3: Looking at non-food stores, clothing store sales were the worst hit during the pandemic

Volume sales, seasonally adjusted, Great Britain, February to July 2020

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Source: Office for National Statistics – Monthly Business Survey – Retail Sales Inquiry
  1. Chart shows the March, April, May, June and July sales as a proportion of February 2020 where February sales equals 100%.

  2. Household goods stores and other non-food stores saw marginal positive growth in May, June and July 2020 resulting in sales in February 2020 at over 100%.

Using pre-pandemic levels in February 2020, we can see how each store type within non-food retail has recovered over the months from March to July 2020 (Figure 3).

In July, total non-food stores were 6.6% lower than their pre-pandemic levels, mainly because of the larger falls and slower recovery for clothing stores, which were 25.7% lower than February.

Household goods stores and other non-food stores show a sharper rate of recovery from their large falls and are 6.0% and 2.2% respectively above their February 2020 levels. Retailers told us that DIY products sold well as people carried out home improvements during lockdown.

Department stores saw less dramatic falls in March and April, resulting in smaller growths to recovery. Many department stores selling a range of goods including food reported continued trade over the period when many stores temporarily closed. In July, department stores were 5.1% lower than their pre-pandemic levels.

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5. Business activity in July

In July 2020, many businesses began to re-open across the country with further ease of lockdown measures. Figure 2 in the gross domestic product (GDP) release shows that pubs and restaurants opened in England and Northern Ireland at the beginning of July, followed by Scotland in mid-July. This is likely to have contributed to the monthly fall of 3.1% in food stores (Figure 3). Yet, food store sales still remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Looking at information gathered from retailers in both the Retail Sales Inquiry and Wave 10 of the Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS), which covered the dates 13 to 26 July, most businesses are either currently trading, or started trading in the last two weeks (Figure 4).

Figure 4 shows that all fuel and department stores matched with BICS have been trading for more than the last two weeks.

Similarly, 90.2% of food stores have been trading for more than the last two weeks, while the remainder of food stores that reported a pause in trading were small retailers within specialist food stores.

Non-store retailing businesses reported that 11.2% had started trading within the last two weeks after a pause in trading. These businesses were stalls and markets, and other non-store (for example, door-to-door sales, non-store auctions) within this sector.

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6. Online retail sales

In July 2020, as more retail stores began to trade once again and services such as restaurants and bars opened in parts of Great Britain, online retail sales volumes decreased by 7.0% when compared with June 2020. While restaurants and other services are not included in the Retail Sales Inquiry (RSI), spending in these sectors could impact spending elsewhere. Figure 2 in this release on the impact of the coronavirus on the economy shows the range of sectors that began to trade over the months from May 2020.

All sectors saw a decrease on the month, with large falls in non-food stores. This resulted in a lower proportion of money spent online at 28.9% in July when compared with June at 31.9%, but was still much higher than February 2020 at 20.0%.

However, as seen with the strong year-on-year growth rates (Table 1), the level of online sales still remained high from the record high sales experienced over lockdown (Figure 5).

While we see a monthly decline in online retail sales in July 2020, sales are still 50.4% higher than February’s pre-pandemic levels. As total retail sales bounced back in July, a higher proportion of online spending continued. 

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7. Retail Sales data

Retail Sales Index
Dataset | Released 21 August 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 21 August 2020
Total sales and average weekly spending estimates for each retail sector in Great Britain in £ thousands.

Retail Sales Index internet sales
Dataset | Released 21 August 2020
Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.

Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights
Dataset | Released 21 August 2020
Retail sales categories and descriptions and their percentage of all retailing in Great Britain.

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8. 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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9. Measuring the data

This bulletin presents estimates of the volume and value in the retail industry for the four-week period 5 July 2020 to 1 August 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.

Volume estimates are derived from the amount spent (value) while taking into account the price of the goods sold. For example, the value of sales is the volume multiplied by price, so a volume estimate can be derived once we know the value of sales supplied by businesses and the price information from the Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) measures the value and derives the 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.

Seasonal adjustment

All seasonal adjustment parameters for our volume and value data, for all businesses and internet time series, up to July 2020 have been reviewed. Many series are impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19)-related actions in July 2020 and previous months. Each series has been reviewed and the best adjustment for coronavirus-related effects applied. These may need to be revised further as additional data become available.

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10. 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 with international data

The most recent international estimate of retail sales available for July 2020 was published by the US Census Bureau on 14 August 2020. In its advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, July 2020 (PDF, 314KB) 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, 576KB) across the European Union on 5 August 2020 for June 2020. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the euro area (EA19) and EU27 when compared with May 2020.

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