Retail sales fall as cost-of-living crisis bites

The ONS said online sales were particularly hard hit, falling 7.9% in March, as shoppers cooled on non-essential purchases.

22 April 2022

Online sales took a heavy hit last month, with shoppers reining in unnecessary purchases as the cost-of-living crisis started to bite, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said sales volumes fell 1.4% in March – faster than the 0.5% drop in February – although they remain 2.2% above pre-Covid levels of February 2020.

Online sales bore the brunt, dropping 7.9% in the month – following on from a 6.9% fall in February.

There was also a decrease in fuel sales volumes of 3.8% as soaring petrol and diesel costs put motorists off making unnecessary journeys, the ONS added.

The only part of the retail landscape to see an increase in sales was in non-food stores, which were up 1.3%, driven by a 2.6% rise at household goods retailers including garden centres and DIY stores.

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “Retail sales fell back notably in March, with rises in the cost of living hitting consumers’ spending.

“Online sales were hit particularly hard due to lower levels of discretionary spending.

“Fuel sales also fell substantially, with evidence suggesting some people reduced non-essential journeys, following record high petrol prices, while food sales continued to fall, dropping for the fifth consecutive month.”

The ONS suggested that the fall in online sales could be due to the end of lockdown restrictions and shoppers feeling confident returning to stores, when compared with December and January as the Omicron variant of coronavirus ran rampant.

It also warned that “some of the fall in February and March 2022 may also be linked to affordability concerns” and pointed out that recent surveys found 54% of adults reported spending less on non-essentials due to an increase in the cost of living.

Food store sales volumes fell 1.1% over the month, with households cutting back on excessive food purchases due to cost-of-living concerns.

The ONS added that the decrease was also due to more shoppers preferring to spend their cash on eating out and socialising due to Covid-19 restrictions coming to an end.

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