UK retail sales attempt recovery from lockdown slump: data

London, United Kingdom: British retail sales recovered somewhat in February, helped by demand for home improvements and garden items from locked-down consumers, official data showed Friday.

Sales by volume rose 2.1 percent in February from January, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.

The ONS noted that sales "only partly recovered" last month after an 8.2-percent slump in January on the back of England's third round of virus curbs.

Sales of household goods jumped 16.1 percent in February.

"Anecdotal evidence from household goods stores suggested that the monthly growth... could be attributed to the purchase of DIY products as consumers continue to improve their homes during lockdown," the ONS said.

"Retailers also noted that there was evidence of consumers buying outdoor products earlier in preparation for the easing of lockdown restrictions particularly the ability to meet friends and relatives in private gardens as the weather improves."

Nevertheless, overall sales remain 3.7 percent lower than the same month a year earlier, just before the eruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Much of the UK re-entered lockdown in early January in order to curb a more transmissible variant Covid strain, shuttering swathes of the economy including non-essential retail.

As a result, clothing sales suffered the largest slump in February, with volumes down 50.4 percent compared with a year earlier.

Petrol station sales meanwhile tanked 26.5 percent as the travel sector was also badly hit.

However, online sales continued to boom last month as consumers were forced to shop via their smartphones and computer screens.

Online accounted for a record 36.1 percent of all retail sales in February.

That beat the previous record of 35.2 percent in January and contrasted with 20 percent in February 2020.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is aiming for a phased exit from current lockdown restrictions and has targeted April 12 for when England's non-essential businesses can begin to reopen.

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