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Statistical bulletin: Retail Sales, February 2014 This product is designated as National Statistics

Released: 27 March 2014 Download PDF

Key Points

  • Year-on-year estimates of the quantity bought in the retail industry continued to show growth. In February 2014, the quantity bought increased by 3.7% compared with February 2013. On the month the quantity bought increased by 1.7%.
  • The three month on previous three month movement in the quantity bought showed continued growth for the twelfth consecutive period increasing by 1.6%. This has been the longest period of sustained growth since November 2007.
  • The average prices of goods sold showed deflation of 0.2% compared with February 2013 with fuel providing the greatest contribution falling by 4.4%. The last time store price deflation occurred was September 2009 (0.8%) when fuel was again the main contributor 5.8%.
  • In February 2014, the amount spent in the retail industry increased by 3.5% compared with February 2013 and by 1.3% compared with January 2014. Non seasonally adjusted data show that the average weekly spend in the retail industry in February 2014 was £6.6 billion compared with £6.3 billion in February 2013 and £6.4 billion in January 2014.
  • The amount spent online increased by 12.4% in February 2014 compared with February 2013 and by 2.5% compared with January 2014.

Additional Information

This bulletin presents estimates of the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) in the retail industry for the period 2 February 2014 to 1 March 2014. Unless otherwise stated, the estimates in this release are seasonally adjusted.

Users are reminded that the figures contained within this release are estimates based on a monthly survey of 5,000 retailers, including all large retailers employing 100 people or more. The timeliness of these retail sales estimates, which are published just two weeks after the end of each month, makes them an important early economic indicator. The industry as a whole is used as an indicator of how the wider economy is performing and the strength of consumer spending.

Key Figures

Table 1: All Retailing, February 2014 (seasonally adjusted percentage change)

      Most recent month on a year earlier Most recent 3 months on a year earlier Most recent month on previous month Most recent 3 months on previous 3 months
Amount spent (Value)  3.5 4.6 1.3 1.3
Quantity bought (Volume)   3.7 4.3 1.7 1.6
Value excluding automotive fuel 4.7 5.6 1.6 1.7
Volume excluding automotive fuel   4.2 4.9 1.8 1.9

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At a Glance

In February 2014, the quantity bought in the retail industry (volume) increased by 3.7% compared with February 2013.  The amount spent (value) increased by 3.5%. Since February 2013, non-seasonally adjusted data show that the prices of goods sold in the retail industry (as measured by the implied price deflator) decreased by 0.2%. More information on how the implied price deflator is calculated can be found in section 3 of the background notes.

Economic Context

To enable a comparison of change, Figure 1 shows the quantity of goods bought in the retail industry (all retailing sales volumes) and the amount spent (all retailing sales values), as indices referenced to 2010.

Figure 1: All Retailing seasonally adjusted sales volumes and values

Figure 1: All Retailing seasonally adjusted sales volumes and values

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Prior to the 2008/09 downturn, both the quantity and the value of retail sales grew steadily. Between January 2005 and January 2008, the quantity of retail sales (including fuel) grew by 7.8%, while the value of retail sales increased by 11.7%. The difference was due to price increases, with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) increasing by 7.0% over the three years. However, average weekly earnings (excluding bonuses) increased by 12.2% over the same period, implying that real household earnings were increasing.

Then from January 2008 to January 2013 (the area shaded in grey) the volume of retail sales was broadly flat, falling by 0.2%, while the value of retail sales continued to grow, increasing by 11.8%, This reflects the extent to which prices have grown since the onset of the economic downturn, CPI having increased by 17.9%, as well as the squeeze felt on household real earnings.

Further analysis on the recent trend of real wages and potential causes.

However, since January 2013 growth in volume terms has improved noticeably. In the 13 months to February 2014, the volume of retail sales has increased by 5.7% - faster than the overall trend experienced in the three years prior to 2008. This improvement has also been broad based, with all four sectors growing throughout the period.

Contributions to Growth

The retail industry is divided into four retail sectors:

  • Predominantly food stores (e.g. supermarkets, specialist food stores and sales of alcoholic drinks and tobacco);

  • Predominantly non-food stores (e.g. non-specialised stores, such as department stores, textiles, clothing & footwear, household goods and other stores)

  • Non-store retailing (e.g. mail order, catalogues and market stalls); and

  • Stores selling automotive fuel (petrol stations).

In February 2014, for every pound spent in the retail industry:

  • 42 pence was spent in food stores;

  •  41 pence in non-food stores;

  • 6 pence in non-store retailing; and

  • 11 pence in stores selling automotive fuel.

Using these as weights, along with the year-on-year growth rates, we can calculate how each sector contributed to the total year-on-year growth in the quantity bought.

Figures 2 and 3 show the contribution of each sector to the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) in retail between February 2013 and February 2014.

Figure 2: Contributions to year-on-year volume growth from the four main retail sectors

Figure 2: Contributions to year-on-year volume growth from the four main retail sectors

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In February 2014, three out of the four main retail sectors, non-food stores, non-store retailing and food stores saw an increase in the quantity bought with the largest contribution from the non-food sector. 

Figure 3: Contributions to year-on-year value growth from the four main retail sectors

Figure 3: Contributions to year-on-year value growth from the four main retail sectors

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 In February 2014, three out of the four main sectors, non-food stores, food stores and non-store retailing, contributed to the increase in amount spent (value).  The largest contribution came from the non-food stores sector.

Figure 4 shows the contribution of each sector to the quantity bought (volume) between January 2014 and February 2014

Figure 4: Contributions to month-on-month volume growth from the four main retail sectors

Figure 4: Contributions to month-on-month volume growth from the four main retail sectors

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In February 2014, the volume bought in non-store retailing increased by 7.9% while food stores increased by 2.1%.  Due to the higher weight applied to food stores this has a more significant contribution to the overall month-on-month growth contributing 0.9 percentage points while non-store retailing contributed just 0.5 percentage points.

Analysis of spending in food stores

In February 2014 the quantity bought in food stores increased by 1.6% compared with February 2013 and by 2.1% compared with January 2014, while the amount spent increased by 3.5% year-on-year and 1.9% month-on-month.

Figure 5 shows the effect of price changes on spending in food stores.  While the amount spent on food has continued to increase at approximately the same pace as inflation the quantity bought in store has remained fairly static over the same period.

Throughout the economic downturn (March 2008 to September 2009) the amount bought stayed broadly consistent, however from early 2010 the amount bought decreased as prices increased at a strong rate.  Despite the change in prices slowing the amount bought has not returned to its pre- 2010 level.

Figure 5: Analysis of spending in food stores

Figure 5: Analysis of spending in food stores

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 Consistent with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), food store price growth has slowed to 1.6% in February 2014 compared with 1.8% in January 2013.

Distribution Analysis

Table 2 illustrates the mix of experiences among different sized retailers. It shows the distribution of reported change in sales values of businesses in the RSI sample, ranked by size of business (based on number of employees). It shows that businesses with 0-9 employees saw the largest growth in the amount spent comparing February 2014 with February 2013, while large stores experienced weaker growth in the amount spent at 2.6%.

Table 2: Changes in reported retail sales values between February 2013 and February 2014 standard reporting periods (by size of business)

Number of employees Weights (%) Growth since February 2013 (%)
100+ 77.6 2.6
40-99 2.4 8.5
10-39 6.5 -1.2
0-9 13.5 13.4

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More information on the performance of the retail industry by store type and size can be found in the reference table, Business Analysis (25.5 Kb Excel sheet) , which shows the extent to which individual businesses reported actual changes in their sales between February 2013 and February 2014. The table contains information only from businesses that reported in February 2013 and February 2014. Cells with values less than 10 are suppressed for some classification categories; this is denoted by c. Note that ‘large’ businesses are defined as those with 100+ employees and 10–99 employees with annual turnover of more than £60 million, while ‘small and medium’ is defined as 0–99 employees.


Amount Spent in the Retail Industry

In the February 2014 four week reporting period, the amount spent in the retail industry was £26.2 billion (non-seasonally adjusted). This compares with £31.8 billion in the five week reporting period for January 2014 and £25.3 billion in the four week reporting period for February 2013.

This equates to an average weekly spend of £6.6 billion in February 2014, £6.4 billion in January 2014 and £6.3 billion in February 2013.

Sector Summary

Key Points

  • Textiles, clothing & footwear was the only sector within predominantly non-food stores reporting falls in both the quantity bought and amount spent.

  • The amount spent in fuel stores decreased by 6.0% and was the lowest since March 2013, a reflection of falling prices.

  • Downwards pressure to average store prices came from fuel stores, non-store retailing, other stores, non-specialised stores and predominantly food stores.   Food stores, household goods stores & textiles, clothing & footwear stores saw average prices rise in comparison with February 2013.

Table 3: Sector Summary, February 2014

    Percentage change over 12 months   Average weekly sales (£ billion)
    Quantity bought (volume)  Amount spent (value)  Average store price 
Predominantly food stores¹ 1.6 3.5 1.6 2.8
Predominantly non-food stores² 4.3 3.9 -0.4 2.5
Non-specialised stores³ 5.8 4.7 -1.1 0.5
Textiles, clothing & footwear stores -1.4 -0.6 0.9 0.7
Household goods stores 2.5 2.6 0.3 0.6
Other stores 9.9 8.6 -1.2 0.8
Non-store retailing 20.1 19.1 -0.7 0.5
Fuel stores -1.5 -6.0 -4.4 0.7
Total   3.7 3.5 -0.2 6.6

Table notes:

  1. Supermarkets, specialist food stores and sales of alcoholic drinks & tobacco.
  2. Non-specialised stores, textiles, clothing &  footwear, household goods and other stores
  3. Department stores

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Note: more information on how average store prices are calculated can be found in the quick guide to retail sales (117.1 Kb Pdf) or in the background notes.

Internet sales in detail

Seasonally adjusted Internet sales data are provided within this release. These seasonally adjusted estimates are published in the RSI tables (1.65 Mb Excel sheet) and include:

  • A seasonally adjusted value index; and

  • Year-on–year and month-on-month growth rates.

Internet sales are estimates of how much was spent online through retailers across all store types in Great Britain. The reference year is 2010=100.

Key Points

  • Average weekly spending online in February 2014 was £678.8 million. This was an increase of 12.4% compared with February 2013.

  • The amount spent online accounted for 10.7% of all retail spending excluding automotive fuel.

  • The online spend in department stores was estimated at 22.0% of all spending in these stores.

Table 4 shows the year-on-year growth rates for total Internet sales by sector and the proportion of sales made online in each retail sector. 

Table 4: Summary of Internet Statistics for February 2014

Category Year on year growth % (Value SA) Proportion of total sales  made online (NSA)
All retailing 12.4 10.7
All food 14.1 3.9
All non-food 12.2 8.2
  Department stores 22.0 9.1
  Textile, clothing & footwear stores 15.3 11.1
  Household goods stores 12.9 5.7
  Other stores 1.0 7.1
Non-store retailing 12.0 62.2

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Background notes

  1. Future Improvements

    ONS previously announced the intention of looking at the feasibility of seasonally adjusting proportions of sales made online.  ONS is currently quality assuring these data and will update users in due course.

    A consultation exercise on new reference tables will be undertaken by ONS and released by the end of March.

  2. What’s New

    The 2014 RSI workplan (87.3 Kb Pdf) was discussed at a seminar on 5 March 2014 and was published on the ONS website.

  3. Understanding the data

    1. Statistical Special Events

    Flooding and storms have produced localised damage and disruption in parts of the UK.  Retail sales estimates for January and February 2014 are thought to be minimally affected by these conditions, which have not been designated as a statistical Special Event.  ONS maintains a list of candidate special events in the Special Events Calendar. There were several special events in 2012. In addition, ONS is keeping the effects of the weather in January and February 2014 under review in line with the ONS Special Events policy. More information can be found in the report on Adverse weather conditions in December 2013 and January and February 2014 (49.9 Kb Pdf) published 27 March 2014. As explained in ONS’s Special Events policy, it is not possible to separate the effects of special events from other changes in the series.

    2. Quick Guide to the Retail Sales Index

    Quick Guide to the Retail Sales Index (117.1 Kb Pdf)

    3. Interpreting the data

    • The Retail Sales Index (RSI) is derived from a monthly survey of 5,000 businesses in Great Britain. The sample represents the whole retail sector and includes the 900 largest retailers and a representative panel of smaller businesses. Collectively all of these businesses cover approximately 90 per cent of the retail industry in terms of turnover.

    • The RSI covers sales only from businesses classified as retailers according to the Standard Industrial Classification 2007 (SIC 2007), an internationally consistent classification of industries. The retail industry is division 47 of the SIC 2007 and retailing is defined as the sale of goods to the general public for household consumption. Consequently, the RSI includes all Internet businesses whose primary function is retailing and also covers Internet sales by other British retailers, such as online sales by supermarkets, department stores and catalogue companies. The RSI does not cover household spending on services bought from the retail industry as it is designed to only cover goods. Respondents are asked to separate out the non-goods elements of their sales, for example income from cafeterias. Consequently, online sales of services by retailers, such as car insurance, would also be excluded.

    • The monthly survey collects two figures from each sampled business: the total turnover for retail sales for the standard trading period, and a separate figure for sales made over the Internet. The total turnover will include Internet sales. The separation of the Internet sales figure allows an estimate relating to Internet sales to be calculated separately.

    4. Definitions and explanations

    •  The value or current price series records the growth of the value of sales ‘through the till’ before any adjustment for the effects of price changes.

    • The volume or constant price series are constructed by removing the effect of price changes from the value series. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) is the main source of the information required on price changes. In brief, a deflator for each type of store (5-digit SIC) is derived by weighting together the CPI components for the appropriate commodities, the weights being based on the pattern of sales in the base year. These deflators are then applied to the value data to produce volume series.

    • The implied deflator or the estimated price of goods is derived by dividing the non-seasonally adjusted value and volume data to leave a price relative. In general, this implied price deflator should be quite close to the retail component of the CPI. More information on the implied price deflator can be found in the Quick Guide to Retail Sales (117.1 Kb Pdf) .  

    5. Use of the data

    The value and volume measures of retail sales estimates are widely used in private and public sector organisations both domestically and internationally. For example, private sector institutions such as investment banks, the retail industry itself and retail groups use the data to inform decisions on the current economic performance of the retail industry. These organisations are most interested in a long term view of the retail sector that can be obtained from year-on-year growth rates. Public sector institutions use the data to assist in informed decision and policy making and tend to be most interested in a snapshot view of the retail industry, which is taken from the month-on-month growth rates.

    The Retail Sales Index feeds into estimates of gross domestic product in two ways.  Firstly it feeds into the services industries when GDP is measured from the output approach.  Secondly it is a data source used to measure household final consumption expenditure which feeds into GDP estimates when measured from the expenditure approach.

    The data feed into the first (or preliminary) estimate of GDP; the second estimate of GDP and the third estimate which is published in the Quarterly National Accounts. 

  4. Methods

    Information on retail sales methodology is available.

    1. Composition of the data

    Estimates in this statistical bulletin are based on financial data collected through the monthly Retail Sales Inquiry. The response rates for the current month reflect the response rates at the time of publication. Late returns for the previous month’s data are included in the results each month. Response rates for historical periods are updated to reflect the current level of response at the time of this publication.

    Table 5: Overall Response Rates

    Period Overall response rates (%)
    Turnover Questionnaire
    2014 Feb 97.0 67.7
    Jan 98.7 76.7
    2013 Dec 98.8 79.1
    Nov 99.1 78.0

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    2. Seasonal adjustment

    Seasonally adjusted estimates are derived by estimating and removing calendar effects (for example Easter moving between March and May) and seasonal effects (for example increased spending in December as a result of Christmas) from the non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) estimates. Seasonal adjustment is performed each month, and reviewed each year, using the standard, widely used software, X-12-ARIMA. Before adjusting for seasonality, prior adjustments are made for calendar effects (where statistically significant), such as returns that do not comply with the standard trading period (see section Methods, Calendar effects), bank holidays, Easter and the day of the week on which Christmas occurs.

    The data collected from the retail sales survey estimate the amount of money taken through the tills of retailers; these are non-seasonally adjusted data. These data consist of three components: 

    •  trend which describes long-term or underlying movements within the data

    • seasonal which describes regular variation around the trend, that is peaks and troughs within the time series, the most obvious in this case being the peak in December and the fall in January

    • irregular or ‘noise’, for example deeper falls within the non-seasonally adjusted series due to harsh weather impacting on retail sales

    To ease interpretation of the underlying movements in the data, the seasonal adjustment process estimates and removes the seasonal component to leave a seasonally adjusted time series consisting of the trend and irregular components.

    In the non-seasonally adjusted RSI we see large rises in December each year and a fall in the following January, but these are not evident in the seasonally adjusted index. This peak in December is larger than the subsequent fall but the trend and irregular components in both months are likely to be similar, meaning that the movements in the unadjusted series are almost completely as a result of the seasonal pattern.

    3.  Calendar effects

    The calculation of the RSI has an adjustment to compensate for calendar effects that arise from the differences in the reporting periods. The reporting period for February 2014 was 2 February 2014 to 1 March 2014, compared with 27 January 2013 to 23 February 2013 the previous year. Table 7 shows the differences between the calendar and seasonally adjusted estimates.

    Table 6: Retail Sales, Calendar Effects

    Year on year percentage change
    Value Volume
    Calendar adjusted 3.6 3.8
    Seasonally adjusted 3.5 3.7

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  5. Quality

    1. Basic quality information

    • The standard reporting periods can change over time due to the movement of the calendar. Every five or six years the standard reporting periods are brought back into line by adding an extra week. For example, January is typically a four-week standard period but January 1986, 1991, 1996, 2002, 2008 and 2014 were all five-week standard periods. The non-seasonally adjusted estimates will still contain calendar effects. If the non-seasonally adjusted estimates are used for analysis this can lead to a distortion depending on the timing of the standard reporting period in relation to the calendar, previous reporting periods and how trading activity changes over time.

    • The non-seasonally adjusted series contain elements relating to the impact of the standard reporting period, moving seasonality and trading day activity. When making comparisons it is recommended that users focus on the seasonally adjusted estimates as these have the systematic calendar related component removed. Due to the volatility of the monthly data, it is recommended that growth rates are calculated using an average of the latest three months of the seasonally adjusted estimates.

    • When interpreting the data, consideration should be given to the relative weighted contributions of the sectors within the all retailing series. Based on SIC 2007 data, total retail sales consists of: predominantly food stores 41.5%, predominantly non-food stores 41.3%, non-store retailing 5.7% and automotive fuel 11.5%.

    2. Standard errors

    Standard errors of non-seasonally adjusted chained volume index movements have been developed for RSI to determine the spread of possible movements and a means of assessing the accuracy of the non-seasonally adjusted month-on-month and year-on-year estimates of all retail sales volumes.  The lower the standard error, the more confident one can be that the estimate is close to the true value for the retail population.

    • The standard error for year-on-year growth in all retail sales (non-seasonally adjusted) volumes is 0.9%. This means that the year-on-year growth rate for all retail sales volumes (non-seasonally adjusted) falls within the range 3.8 ± 1.8 percentage points with a probability of 95%.

    • The standard error for month-on-month growth in all retail sales (non-seasonally adjusted) volumes is 0.5%. This means that the month-on-month growth rate for all retail sales volumes (non-seasonally adjusted) falls within the range 1.9 ± 1.0 percentage points with a probability of 95%.

    The papers ‘ Measuring the accuracy of the Retail Sales Index’ (1.04 Mb Pdf) , Winton, J and Ralph, J (2011) and ‘ Updated accuracy measures for the Retail Sales Index’ (29.6 Kb Pdf) Sanderson, R (2013) report on the calculation of standard errors for month-on-month and year-on-year growth rates in the RSI as well as providing an overview of standard errors and how they can be interpreted.

    3. Summary quality report

    A Summary Quality Report (114 Kb Pdf) for the RSI. 

    This report describes, in detail the intended uses of the statistics presented in this publication, their general quality and the methods used to produce them.

    4. Revisions triangles

    Revisions to data provide one indication of the reliability of key indicators. The table below shows summary information on the size and direction of the revisions made to the volume data covering a five-year period. Note that changes in definition and classification mean that the revision analysis is not conceptually the same over time.

    Table 7: All Retailing, Volume Seasonally Adjusted, Revisions Triangles Summary Statistics, February 2014

    Volume seasonally adjusted

    Growth in latest period (per cent) Revisions between first publication and estimates twelve months later (percentage points)
    Average over the last five years (mean revision) Average over the last five years without regard to sign (average absolute revision)
    Latest three months compared with previous three months   1.6 -0.27 0.36
    Latest month compared with previous month   1.7 -0.13 0.40

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    A spreadsheet giving these estimates and the calculations behind the averages in the table is available on the ONS website.

  6. Publication Policy
    Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available from the Media Relations Office. Also available is a list of the organisations given pre-publication access to the contents of this bulletin.

    Accessing data
    The complete run of data in the tables of this statistical bulletin is available to view and download in electronic format using the ONS Time Series Data service. Users can download the complete bulletin in a choice of zipped formats, or view and download their own sections of individual series. The Time Series Data can be accessed.

    Alternatively, for low-cost tailored data call 0845 601 3034 or email

    Next publication: Friday 25 April 2014 
    Issued by: Office for National Statistics, Government Buildings, Cardiff Road, Newport NP10 8XG

    Media contact:
    Tel Media Relations Office 0845 6041858
     Emergency on-call 07867 906553

    Statistical contact:
    Tel Kate Davies 01633 455602
    Email retail.sales.enquiries@ons.gsi,

    Contact us:
    Tel 0845 601 3034


  7. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

Statistical contacts

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