Retail sales, Great Britain: October 2021

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

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Release date:
19 November 2021

Next release:
17 December 2021

1. Main points

  • Retail sales volumes rose by 0.8% in October 2021, from a revised unchanged (0.0%) position between August and September (previous estimate was a 0.2% fall); volumes were 5.8% higher than their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic February 2020 levels.

  • Non-food stores was the only main retail sector that saw a rise in sales volumes, increasing by 4.2% in October 2021, because of growth in other non-food stores (7.2%), such as second-hand stores, toy stores and sports equipment stores, and clothing stores (6.2%).

  • Clothing stores sales volumes in October 2021 were only 0.5% below pre-pandemic levels in February 2020, with some retailers suggesting that early Christmas trading had boosted sales.

  • Automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 6.4% in October 2021 as they returned to more typical recent levels following strong growth in September; volumes were 5.0% below their February 2020 levels.

  • Food store sales volumes fell by 0.3% in October 2021; despite the fall in October, volumes were 3.4% above pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in February 2020.

  • The proportion of retail sales online fell to 27.3% in October 2021, its lowest proportion since March 2020 (22.5%) but still substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic.

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2. Retail sales in October

This is the first increase over the month in sales volumes since April 2021 when non-essential retailing re-opened.

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3. Month on month contribution to growth by sector

Figure 2 displays the contribution to month-on-month growth in October 2021, with a 0.8% increase over the month in the volume of sales (quantity bought). This highlights that non-food stores was the only main retail sector contributing to growth between September and October.

Table 1 provides a snapshot of the retail sales industry in October 2021 with both value and volume growth rates.

Although retail sales volumes grew by 0.8% in October, over the three months to October they fell by 2.3% when compared with the previous three months. Compared with the same period a year earlier, sales volumes over the last three months fell by 0.5%. However, percentage change over the past year should be interpreted with caution given the impact of base effects on growth rates because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020. When compared with the same period two years ago, sales volumes over the last three months rose by 4.0%.

Retail sales values, unadjusted for price changes, rose by 1.6% in October 2021, following an increase of 0.2% in September. Over the last three months to October 2021, the value of sales was up 3.3% on the same period a year earlier, reflecting an annual retail sales implied price deflator of 3.8%.

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4. Retail sales, selected sectors

Non-food stores as a whole saw monthly sales volumes rise by 4.2% in October 2021 and were 4.4% above their pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in February 2020.

The sub-sector, other non-food stores, reported a monthly rise in sales volumes of 7.2% in October 2021. Within this, second-hand goods stores (charity shops and auction houses) had the largest contribution, followed by sports equipment, games and toy stores.

Clothing stores reported an increase of 6.2% over the month with feedback from some retailers suggesting that early Christmas trading had boosted sales. This is supported by analysis within the Coronavirus and social impacts release, which reported that the most common items bought or pre-ordered earlier than usual for Christmas this year included toys and clothes, shoes or accessories. The latest rise means clothing stores sales are now only 0.5% below their pre-coronavirus pandemic level.

Department stores reported an increase in monthly sales volumes of 0.6% and were 2.8% below their levels in February 2020.

Household goods stores sales volume reported a monthly decline of 0.3%. Sales volumes for household goods stores have fallen each month since their peak in May 2021, following the re-opening of non-essential retailing in April, and were 1.3% below their levels in February 2020.

Automotive fuel

Automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 6.4% over the month to October. Feedback from retailers noted that increased turnover at the end of September, alongside some continuing supply issues at the beginning of October, had a downward impact on the value of their fuel sold over the month.

This is also reflected in data on UK spending on debit and credit cards, based on CHAPS payments made by credit and debit card payment processors, which reported a pick-up in its “work-related” spending category (such as fuel) from 24 September followed by a fall from 4 October 2021.

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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 fell in October 2021 by 0.6% when compared with September 2021. The monthly fall in online spending values resulted in a fall in the proportion of online sales to 27.3% in October 2021, from 28.1% in September.

While this is the lowest proportion of online retail spending since March 2020 (22.5%), it remains far higher than the proportion of online retail spending in February 2020, before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, of 19.7%.

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6. Retail sales data

Retail Sales Index
Dataset | Released 19 November 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 19 November 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 19 November 2021
Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.

Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights
Dataset | Released 19 November 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


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 October 2021 have been reviewed. Many series are impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19)-related actions in October 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.

Re-referencing of indices to 2019=100

Previously, retail sales indices were referenced to 2018=100 (that is, for each component, the average of the monthly indices of that year are set to equal 100). Following the publication of Blue Book 2021 the reference period has now been updated to 2019=100. Please note that that this does not impact growth rates.

Clothing deflator

Improvements to the clothing deflator used prior to 2010 have been implemented as part of this release. In 2010, changes to the methodology used to collect prices in the consumer price inflation family of indices were made. As is common with consumer price inflation methodological changes, the back series was not revised. The back series for the clothing deflator is now aligned with the methodological improvements that were been made in the consumer price inflation family from 2010 onwards. This reflects better the changes in clothing prices within the calculation of volume estimates.

Making our published spreadsheets accessible

This month, alongside our retail sales tables, we have published a sample version of our main reference tables (XLSX, 2.6 MB) prepared following the Government Statistical Service (GSS) guidance on releasing statistics in spreadsheets. We aim to improve the usability, accessibility and machine readability of our published statistics so that everyone can make use of them. We have published this sample table to help communicate the changes we will be making to the retail sales tables over the coming months. When we change over to the new format, there will be a period where we will publish the tables in both the new and the current formats. If you have any questions or comments, please email

Consultation on the Code of Practice for Statistics - proposed change to 9.30am release practice

On behalf of the UK Statistics Authority, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is conducting a consultation on the Code of Practice for Statistics, proposing changes to the 9.30am release practice.

Please send comments by 21 December 2021 to:

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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.

The latest comparisons of month on same month a year ago should be treated with caution given the impact of base effects on growth rates because of the economic impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic throughout 2020. Such comparisons and growth rates can nonetheless be found in our accompanying dataset.

Comparability with international data

The most recent international estimate of retail sales available for October 2021 was published by the United States Census Bureau on 16 November 2021. In its advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, October 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 EU on 5 November 2021 for September 2021. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the euro area (EA19) and EU27 when compared with August 2021.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Rhys Lewis
Telephone: +44 1633 455602