July retail figures show consumers still home focused

Fri, Aug 21, 2020

UK retail bounced back faster in July more strongly than most had expected, according to the Office for National Statistics. The big news was the upturn in furniture retail, down by a revised 16.5% in June, but up 13.9% in July year-on-year, boosted by the biggest month for home buying in 10 years, according to property web site Rightmove, helped by cuts in Stamp Duty and catch up following the suspension of the housing market during Coronavirus lockdown.

Curiously, the ONS says food retailers' sales grew by only 2.0% on last year, way below the Kantar figures for the grocery market. While the definitions may be different, it is difficult to see how the two growth measures can be at odds to such an extent. And ONS's base growth figure from July last year, at 1.9%, is not strong either, excluding the possibility of a base effect.

Meanwhile, the retail laggard remains the clothing and footwear sector. It is recovering, but woefully slowly, with sales still down a quarter on last July. That's better than June's -35.4%, but it is still a measure of how much fashion spending is dependent on people's need to look good while socializing, holidaying or working. With spending on the home looking exceptionally buoyant, judging by DIY, furniture and electrical, for now UK consumers seem to be determined to remain in their domestic bubbles as much as they can.