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Grow Ecommerce Report - Retail sales, Great Britain: December 2021

December sales were clearly affected by the uncertainty in consumer confidence caused by the Omicron surge. Sales increased but not as much as was hoped for. Online once again helped take the edge off for those retailers that invested in new technologies and marketing approaches in response to the changed environment over the pervious 18 months. January and February are expected to see a return to growth, tempered by inflation and the cost of living crisis.

1. Main points

  • Retail sales volumes fell by 3.7% in December 2021 but were 2.6% higher than their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) February 2020 levels.

  • Non-food stores sales volumes fell by 7.1% in December 2021, with falls in each of its sub-sectors (department stores, clothing stores, other non-food stores and household stores) following strong sales in November; the Omicron variant, which increased rapidly during December, was reported by some retailers as impacting retail footfall.

  • Automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 4.7% in December 2021 as increased home working in December 2021 reduced travel; sales volumes were 6.6% below their February 2020 levels.

  • Food store sales volumes fell by 1.0% in December 2021; despite the fall in December, volumes were 2.0% above levels in February 2020.

  • The proportion of retail sales online rose slightly to 26.6% in December 2021 from 26.3% in November, substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Between 2020 and 2021 the volume of retail sales rose by 5.1%, which is the strongest growth since 2004 (when it was also 5.1%); it was last higher in 2002 (5.7%). However, growth between 2020 and 2021 should be interpreted with caution given restrictions on travel and non-essential retail which contributed to a fall in sales during 2020.

2. Retail sales in December

Table1: Volume and value sales, December 2021 Seasonally adjusted, percentage change, Great Britain

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

Retail sales volumes fell by 3.7% in December 2021, following growth of 1.0% in November (revised down from 1.4%). Over the three months to December 2021 they fell by 0.2% when compared with the previous three months. Compared with the same period a year earlier, sales volumes over the last three months fell by 0.9%. Percentage change over the past year should be interpreted with caution given the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions and base effects on growth rates.

Retail sales values, unadjusted for price changes, fell by 3.1% in December 2021, following an increase of 2.1% in November (revised down from 2.4%). Over the three months to December 2021, the value of sales was up 6.2% on the same period a year earlier, reflecting an annual retail sales implied price deflator of 5.8%.

The reporting period for the December publication covers 28 November to 1 January 2022. Cyber Monday, which took place on 29 November, is included in our December reference period. Our estimates are seasonally adjusted, which means they account for seasonal effects such as Cyber Monday or increased spending over Christmas.

Retail sales volumes fell by 3.7% in December 2021, the largest monthly fall since January 2021 (negative 8.3%) when widespread and extensive restrictions to non-essential retail were in place.

The monthly fall in December 2021 follows monthly growth of 0.8% and 1.0% in October and November 2021, with analysis within the Coronavirus and social impacts release and feedback from retailers suggesting some earlier Christmas trading during those months.

Non-food stores reported a fall of 7.1% in sales volumes because of falls in each of its sub-sectors (department stores, clothing stores, other non-food stores and household stores). Feedback from some retailers suggested that the Omicron variant, which the Coronavirus Infection survey reports to have increased rapidly during December 2021, and associated reduced footfall, may have impacted sales.

Automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 4.7% in December, which may be because of increased home working and reduced travel following England's move to Plan B in early December. This is supported by Coronavirus and social impacts, which reported a reduction in working adults travelling to work during the second half of December alongside similar findings from the Business Insight and Conditions Survey.

Food sales volumes fell by 1.0% over the month while non-store retailing fell by 0.3%.

Month-on-month contribution to growth by sector

  1. Individual contributions may not sum to the total because of rounding.

  2. “Total” is the percentage change over the month in seasonally adjusted sales volumes while the four main retail sectors are the percentage point contribution to that change.

Figure 2 displays the contributions to the 3.7% month-on-month fall in overall retail sales volumes (quantity bought) in December 2021. This highlights that non-food stores had the largest contribution to the fall over the month.

3. Retail sales, selected sectors

Non-food stores

Non-food stores as a whole saw monthly sales volumes fall by 7.1% in December 2021 and were 2.3% below their pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) levels of February 2020.

Economic activity and social change analysis of data provided by Springboard reported that in the week to 18 December 2021 overall retail footfall was below "normal" expectations for this time of year, at 81% of the level seen in the equivalent week of 2019. Shopping centres retail footfall for this period was at its lowest relative level since the week beginning 25 July 2021, which may be because of more cautious behaviour caused by the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The sub-sector of other non-food stores, which includes retailers such as sports equipment, games and toy stores, reported a monthly fall in sales volumes of 8.9% in December 2021 but were 6.7% above their February 2020 levels.

Clothing stores and department stores reported a fall of 8.0% and 6.3% over the month and were 7.2% and 10.6% below levels in February 2020.

The volume of household goods stores sales fell by 3.2% in December and were 1.4% below their levels in February 2020.

Automotive fuel

Automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 4.7% in December and were 6.6% below pre-coronavirus levels of February 2020. This may be because of reduced travel following England's move to Plan B in early December 2021, which asked people to work from home if they could.

The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey covering the period 15 December 2021 to 2 January 2022 reported 60% of working adults travelling to work at some point in the past seven days compared with 72% in the previous period. This may in part reflect working patterns and location being different at Christmas, but the Business Insight and Conditions Survey also reported a small increase in businesses reporting their workforce was working from home (comparing the reference period 1 to 14 November with 29 November to 12 December) and a fall in those working from a dedicated workplace.

The Coronavirus and social impacts release also reported a fall in those planning to meet up with friends or family in restaurants, pubs, bars or cafes over Christmas (29% for 15 December 2021 to 3 January 2022 compared with 34% for 1 to 12 December 2021) alongside a fall in those intending to visit a Christmas market (13%, 22% in the previous period), which may also have reduced travel.

4.Online retail

Table 2: Summary of internet statistics, December 2021

Value, seasonally adjusted, percentage rates, Great Britain

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


* All retailing refers to sales as a proportion of total retail sales.

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 December 2021 by 1.8% when compared with November 2021. Despite this fall, the proportion of online sales rose slightly to 26.6% in December 2021, from 26.3% in November.

5.Annual increase in total retail sales

In 2021 as a whole, the volume of retail sales rose by 5.1%. This is the strongest growth since 2004 (when it was also 5.1%) and was last higher in 2002 (5.7%).

However, percentage change between 2020 and 2021 should be interpreted with caution given restrictions on travel and non-essential retail, which contributed to a fall in sales during 2020. Compared with 2019, seasonally adjusted sales volumes in 2021 are up 3.2%.

Fuel sales volumes rose 14.1% in 2021 from a fall of 22.3% in 2020 when travel restrictions and work from home guidance reduced the demand for fuel. Other non-food stores and clothing stores also recorded large increases of 13.8% and 13.1% following the re-opening of non-essential retail.

6. Retail sales data

Retail Sales Index Dataset | Released 21 January 2022 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 January 2022 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 21 January 2022 Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.

Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights Dataset | Released 21 January 2022 Retail sales categories and descriptions and their percentage of all retailing in Great Britain.

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.

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 Quality and Methodology Information (QMI).

Revisions Revisions in this release are a result of:

  • late responses to survey returns replacing imputations, or revisions to original returns

  • revisions to seasonal-adjustment factors, which are re-estimated and reviewed every month

For further information on the revisions profile, please see the retail sales revisions triangles published on a one-month and three-month growth basis. Seasonal adjustment

All seasonal-adjustment parameters for our volume and value data, for all businesses and internet-data time series, up to December 2021 have been reviewed. Many series are affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)-related actions in December 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. Making our published spreadsheets accessible

In line with Government Statistical Service (GSS) guidance on releasing statistics in spreadsheets, we have updated the internet reference tables. The data are currently still available in the previous format, published as a supporting file.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Use of value-added tax data in retails sales statistics

We have previously outlined plans to incorporate value-added tax (VAT) data to measure monthly retail sales alongside a rationalised Monthly Business Survey (MBS) as part of our transformation of short-term turnover statistics. Transformation of data collection systems has progressed to the stage where, in the next few months, we expect to transfer production of the statistics to our new Statistical Production Platform (SPP). This will be a positive step forward to ensure that our systems are kept efficient.

However, at that stage we will not be including VAT data in place of survey data in the production of retail sales statistics. This is because methodological work has confirmed that timeliness of that data, especially during times of shock such as the one seen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, could result in poorer initial estimates and larger subsequent revisions. Work will continue to assess the potential for future incorporation of VAT data in retail sales and our other short-term statistics.

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 December 2021 was published by the United States Census Bureau on 14 January 2022. In their Advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, December 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 7 January 2022 for November 2021. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the Euro area (EA19) and EU27 when compared with October 2021.

10. Related links

Article | Released 27 July 2021

How retail sales fits in with the wider economic climate, including movements over time, long-term trends and recent growth rates.

Wrapping up "Black Friday": How the ONS captures the effect of a major shopping trend Blog | Released 18 January 2020 Blog post explaining how we take into account the impact of Black Friday when compiling our retail statistics.

How our internet activity has influenced the way we shop: December 2019 Article | Released 14 December 2019 Comparing the trends and emerging patterns between retail sales data and internet access data, looking specifically at the growth in online sales.

Comparing "bricks and mortar" store sales with online retail sales: December 2018 Article | Released 20 December 2018 Comparing the trends and emerging patterns in the relationship between the amount spent in retail between "bricks and mortar" store sales and online sales.


Source ONS

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