Experts comment on ONS Retail Sales December 2021

ONS Retail Sales December 2021

The ONS Retail Sales December 2021 statistics have been released, highlighting key trends in the industry.

As Plan B restrictions begin to lift, retailers are planning strategically to provide shoppers with enhanced shopping experiences and make the most of footfall. This article takes a look at December’s retail sales, as well as offering expert advice to help retailers overcome challenges.

Key findings for ONS Retail Sales December 2021 include:

  • Retail sales volumes fell by 3.7% in December 2021, however, they were 2.6% higher than pre-COVID February 2020 levels
  • Non-food store sales volumes dropped by 7.1% in December 2021. This is expected to be the result of the Omicron variant’s impact on footfall, following a strong retail performance in November. There were noticeable drops in various retail sectors, including clothing stores, household stores, department stores and other non-food stores
  • 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

What the ONS Retail Sales December 2021 mean for retailers

Huw Phillips, Head of Sales at Deko, comments: “The rise of the Omicron variant throughout December impeded momentum in retail sales growth that was seen in November. Retailers reported that footfall was reduced throughout the month, partially driving a decrease in volumes of 3.7% in December, with non-food stores seeing a drop of 7.1%.

“Nevertheless, volumes were 2.6% higher than their pre-COVID levels in 2019 and showed a rise of 5.1% from 2020 – the strongest growth since 2004. However, figures from 2020 should be read within the context of the exceptional restrictions that were in place throughout the year. A more useful benchmark is perhaps 2019; in comparison, seasonally adjusted sales in 2021 increased by 3.2%. Whilst December may have seen a slowdown in activity, retail sales figures from October and November provide some reassurance that consumers began their festive shopping earlier in the year.  

“Alongside the reduced in-store footfall, the ONS figures show that the proportion of online retail sales rose to 26.6% in December, up from 26.3% in the month previously. This is notably higher than pre-pandemic levels of 19.7% in February 2020, and maintains a long-term trend towards ecommerce. However, online spending values fell by 1.8% in the month.  

“We are now well into the New Year, and it is clear that the retail industry continues to face logistical and inflationary pressures. Fast and flexible checkout operations will be more important than ever to help drive both sales volumes and values – particularly for sectors like household goods, which often deal with large basket prices and saw volumes fall by 3.2% in December. Making checkout processes as easy as possible will benefit both retailers and consumers as the seasonal trading rush subsides.”

Holly Worthington of Modern Retail commented: “The impact of Omicron reduced footfall and damaged peak sales towards the end of 2021. Those that are able to utilise experiential retail to boost footfall and offer an omnichannel experience that makes online sales straightforward for customers, will be those that can make the most of the coming months.”

View the full report

To view the full ONS Retail Sales December 2021 report, click here.