Retail sales volumes fell by 0.2% in September 2021, following an upwardly-revised 0.6% fall in August; despite the fall in September, volumes were 4.2% higher than their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic February 2020 levels.
Non-food stores reported a fall of 1.4% in sales volumes in September 2021, because of falls in household goods stores (negative 9.3%), such as furniture and lighting stores, and other non-food stores (negative 1.7%) such as sports equipment stores.
Automotive fuel sales volumes rose by 2.9% in September 2021 as demand towards the end of September increased sales; volumes were 1.8% above their pre-pandemic February 2020 levels.
Food store sales volumes rose by 0.6% in September 2021 and were 3.9% above pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in February 2020.
Despite relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in summer 2021, in-store retail sales remain subdued; the proportion of retail sales online rose to 28.1% in September 2021 from 27.9% in August, substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the pandemic.
Retail sales volumes have fallen each month since April 2021 when non-essential retailing re-opened and retail sales reached levels substantially above those before the pandemic. This is the longest period of consecutive monthly falls in the history of this series (which began in February 1996). However, sales remain 4.2% above the level seen before the pandemic (February 2020).
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Figure 2 displays the contribution to month-on-month growth in September 2021, with a 0.2% fall over the month in the volume of sales (quantity bought).
Non-food stores were the largest contributor towards the monthly decrease at 0.5 percentage points. Within this, household goods stores, such as furniture and lighting stores were the main contributor which fell by 9.3% over the month.
However, there was a positive contribution from food stores at 0.2 percentage points. Over the month, food store sales volumes rose by 0.6% following a fall of 1.4% in the previous month.
Fuel stores also reported a positive contribution of 0.2 percentage points as sales volumes increased by 2.9% over the month following increased demand at the end of September.
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Download this table Table 1: Volume and value sales, September 2021.xls .csv
Table 1 provides a snapshot of what happened in the retail sales industry in September 2021 with both value and volume growth rates.
Aligned with the fall in month-on-month sales, retail sales volumes over the last three months fell by 3.9% when compared to the previous three months, partly because of strong sales in April when non-essential retailing re-opened. This is the first fall in the three-month-on-three-month series since March 2021. Compared to the same period a year earlier, sales volumes over the last three months fell by 1.3%, its lowest rate since February 2021. 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 to the same period two years ago, sales volumes over the last three months rose by 2.9%.
Retail sales values, unadjusted for price changes, fell by 0.2% in September 2021, following a 0.1% decline in August. Over the last three months to September 2021, the value of sales was up 3.2% on the same period a year earlier, reflecting an annual retail sales implied price deflator of 3.4%.Back to table of contents
Automotive fuel sales volumes increased by 2.9% over the month to September and were 1.8% above their February 2020 levels. In feedback from retailers, while many noted increased turnover during the last week of September resulting in increased sales over the month, other fuel retailers confirmed issues with deliveries and shortages at sites which had a downward impact on the value of their fuel sold over the month.
Increased fuel sales volumes in the last week of September 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 pickup in its “work related” spending category (such as fuel) from 24 September.
Non-food stores as a whole saw monthly sales volumes fall by 1.4% in September 2021 and were 1.7% below their pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in February 2020.
Household goods stores sales volume reported a monthly decline of 9.3% largely due to a fall of 14.8% in furniture and lighting stores. Sales volume 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 1.0% below their levels in February 2020.
Other non-food stores (such as chemists, toy stores and sports equipment stores) reported a monthly fall in sales volumes of 1.7% in September 2021. Sales volumes were 3.7% lower than this time last year but 3.4% above their pre-COVID-19 levels.
Clothing and department stores reported an increase in monthly sales volume of 4.3% and 0.2% respectably. Sales volumes were 5.5% and 5.1% below their pre-pandemic February levels.Back to table of contents
|Category||Online sales as a |
proportion of retail
in this sector
month on a year
|Online sales: |
|Textile, clothing |
|Household goods stores||24.8||-0.9||-3.6||7.8|
Download this table Table 2: Summary of internet statistics, September 2021.xls .csv
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 September 2021 by 0.5% when compared with August 2021, largely because of an increase in department stores sales values (3.8%). The monthly increase in online spending values resulted in a slight increase in the proportion of online sales, which increased to 28.1% in September 2021, from 27.9% in August.
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 36.6% reached in February 2021.Back to table of contents
Retail Sales Index
Dataset | Released 22 October 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 22 October 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 22 October 2021
Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.
Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights
Dataset | Released 22 October 2021
Retail sales categories and descriptions and their percentage of all retailing in Great Britain.
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 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 estimates refer to raw data where the effects of regular or seasonal patterns have not been removed.
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.Back to table of contents
More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Retail Sales QMI.
All seasonal adjustment parameters for our volume and value data, for all businesses and internet data time series, up to September 2021 have been reviewed. Many series are impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19)-related actions in September 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.
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: email@example.com.Back to table of contents
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 September 2021 was published by the United States Census Bureau on 15 October 2021. In its advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, September 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 6 October 2021 for August 2021. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the euro area (EA19) and EU27 when compared with July 2021.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 1633 455602