Retail sales registered a year-on-year decline in February as strong grocery sales failed to offset a 50% drop in fashion sales.

Sales declined 3.7% year on year in February, driven by a 50.4% drop in fashion volumes and a 26.5% fall in automotive fuel sales in comparison with pre-pandemic levels.

Excluding fuel, February sales were down 1.1% year on year in terms of volume bought and down 1.6% in terms of amount spent.

According to the Office for National Statistics’ retail sales monitor, February sales only partially recovered on a month-by-month basis, up 2.1% in volume terms, against a decline of 8.2% in January. 

Non-food sales were a primary driver of this uplift as department stores and household goods provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in sales volumes, up 16.2% and 16.1% respectively.

February grocery sales were up 1% and 1.2% in terms of amount spent and volume bought respectively, in comparison with the previous month.

On a three-month basis, retail sales by volume fell 6.3% due to poor fashion and other non-food category sales.

Online sales accounted for the largest proportion of total retail on record at 36.1%, up from 35.2% in January and 20% in February 2020.

February 2021 was the second consecutive month that total sales were below pre-pandemic levels, with monthly sales between July and December registering uplifts year on year.