Retail sales, Great Britain: August 2021

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

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Contact:
Email Rhys Lewis

Release date:
17 September 2021

Next release:
22 October 2021

1. Main points

  • Retail sales volumes fell by 0.9% in August 2021, following a 2.8% fall in July; however, volumes were up by 0.3% in the three months to August compared with the previous three months, and in August 2021 were 4.6% higher than their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic February 2020 levels.

  • Food store sales volumes fell by 1.2% in August 2021, with some evidence to suggest that the further easing of hospitality restrictions had an impact on sales; people increased their social spending such as eating and drinking at restaurants and bars.

  • Non-food stores reported a fall of 1.0% in sales volumes in August 2021, driven by falls in department stores (negative 3.7%) and other stores, such as sports equipment and computer stores (negative 1.2%).

  • Automotive fuel sales volumes rose by 1.5% in August 2021 as people continued to increase their amount of travel; however, they remained 1.2% below their pre-pandemic February 2020 levels.

  • The proportion of retail sales online rose to 27.7% in August 2021 from 27.1% in July, substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the pandemic.

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2. Retail sales in August

Non-food stores reported a fall of 1.0% in monthly sales volumes driven by falls in department stores (negative 3.7%), which have had consecutive months of falls since April 2021, and other stores such as sports equipment and computer stores (negative 1.2%). Non-food stores sales volumes were 0.4% below their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic February 2020 levels.

Automotive fuel sales volumes rose by 1.5% over the month following higher reported road traffic. Automotive fuel sales volumes were still 1.2% below their pre-pandemic February 2020 levels.

Table 1 provides more details of what happened in the retail sales industry in August 2021 with both value and volume growth rates.

Retail sales volumes over the last three months are up 4.0% on the same period a year earlier, while August 2021 monthly volumes are unchanged from August last year. However, percentage change over the past year should be interpreted with caution because of base effects - lower than normal retail sales in mid-2020, impacted by store closures, social distancing and other COVID-19 restrictions.

Retail sales values, unadjusted for price changes, fell by 0.3% in August 2021, following a 2.4% decline in July. Over the last three months to August 2021 they are up 7.3% on the same period a year earlier, reflecting an annual retail sales implied price deflator of 3.3%.

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3. Retail sales by sector

Food stores

Food store sales volumes fell by 1.2% in August 2021, following a fall of 2.0% in the previous month after an increase of 4.0% in June thanks to the start of the Euro 2020 football championship. This monthly fall in food sales volume may be associated with an increase in social spending (such as eating out) linked to the further lifting of hospitality restrictions since July. This is supported by data from Open Table, which showed a pickup in online restaurant reservations in August.

This pattern is also in line with data on UK spending on debit and credit cards, based on CHAPS payments made by credit and debit card payment processors, which reported a fall in spending on staples (such as food) in August alongside an increase in social spending (such as eating out and takeaways).

Despite the monthly fall, food store sales volumes are still 3.4% above pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic levels in February 2020.

Non-food stores

Non-food stores as a whole saw monthly sales volumes fall by 1.0% in August 2021 and were 0.4% below their pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in February 2020.

Department stores reported a fall of 3.7% in monthly sales volumes in August 2021, following falls each month since April 2021. Department store sales volumes were 5.2% below their pre-coronavirus pandemic February 2020 levels.

Other non-food stores (such as chemists, toy stores and sports equipment stores) reported a monthly fall in sales volumes of 1.2% in August 2021. Despite this, sales volumes were 3.0% higher than this time last year and 4.5% above their pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

Household goods stores reported a monthly decline of 0.5%, while sales volumes for clothing stores were the only sector to show an increase over the month, at 0.7%.

Automotive fuel

Automotive fuel sales volumes increased by 1.5% as people continued to increase the amount they travel. This is supported by Department for Transport (DfT) (non-seasonally adjusted) road traffic data which reported an increase in the volume of motor vehicle traffic during August. Automotive fuel sales volumes were 1.2% lower than February 2020, before the impact of the pandemic.

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4. A look at retail supply chains

Looking at the businesses common between the Retail Sales Inquiry and the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) during the two weeks from 9 August to 22 August 2021, businesses which had not permanently ceased trading were asked if they were able to get the materials or goods they needed from within the UK in the last two weeks.

Across businesses in the retail industry, 6.5% reported they were not able to get the materials, goods or services needed from within the UK in the last two weeks. This compares with 7.1% across all industries. Department stores reported the largest percentage at 18.2%, followed by clothing stores at 11.1%.

Another 8.9% of businesses in the retail industry reported they were able to get the materials, goods or services they needed from within the UK in the last two weeks, but had to change suppliers or find alternative solutions. Over 22% of food stores reported this, followed by 18.8% of fuel stores and 11.1% of clothing stores.

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5. Online retail

Table 2 shows the month-on-month and month-on-year (annual) growth rates for the amount spent online by value, and the proportion of total retail sales value that was made online by sector. The percentage weights indicate where money is spent online (for example, 9.1 pence in every pound spent online was spent in department stores in 2020).

Online spending values increased in August 2021 by 1.5% when compared with July 2021, driven by other stores (5.8%) such as sports equipment stores and computer and telecoms equipment stores, and non-store retailing (2.9%). This resulted in a slight increase in the proportion of online retail spending values, which increased to 27.7% in August 2021, from 27.1% in July.

This remains far higher than the proportion of online retail spending in February 2020, before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, of 19.7%, although it is below the peak-pandemic level of 36.5% reached in February 2021.

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6. Retail sales data

Retail Sales Index
Dataset | Released 17 September 2021
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 17 September 2021
Total sales and average weekly spending estimates for each retail sector in Great Britain in the thousands (British pounds).

Retail Sales Index internet sales
Dataset | Released 17 September 2021
Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.

Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights
Dataset | Released 17 September 2021
Retail sales categories and descriptions and their percentage of all retailing in Great Britain.

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7. 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 June) 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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8. Measuring the data

Quality

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 data time series, up to August 2021 have been reviewed. Many series are impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19)-related actions in August 2021 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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9. 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 2021 was published by the United States Census Bureau on 17 August 2021. In its advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, July 2021 (PDF, 354KB), they include the amount spent in the United States 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 across the European Union on 3 September 2021 for July 2021. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the euro area (EA19) and EU27 when compared with June 2021.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Rhys Lewis
retail.sales.enquiries@ons.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 1633 455602