January retail sales bounce back after Omicron disruption
SHOPPERS returned to the high street in droves last month as UK retail sales rebounded after the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus and the easing of related restrictions, new figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said sales rose by 1.9 per cent in January, meaning they were 3.6 per cent above pre-pandemic levels.
However, it came after a 4 per cent fall in December when shoppers stayed at home in the run-up to Christmas as Omicron spread rapidly.
ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: "After a sluggish December, where the Omicron wave had a significant impact, retail sales rebounded in January with their biggest monthly rise since the shops reopened last spring."
The rebound in sales was buoyed by strong home improvement demand, as people sought to spruce up their properties at the start of the year.
Meanwhile, fuel sales volumes rose by 4.1 per cent for the month, following a 5 per cent fall in December as increased home working hit travel patterns.
Mr Morgan added: "It was a good month for garden centres, department and household goods stores, with particularly strong trading for furniture and lighting.
"Following a rise in high street footfall towards the end of the month, the proportion of online sales dropped to its lowest level since March 2020, while an increase in road traffic helped push fuel sales up from December."
The figures also revealed that food sales dropped by 2.3 per cent for the month, representing the biggest fall since May last year, as people returned to restaurants and pubs.
This resulted in food sales dropping below their pre-pandemic levels for the first time.
The ONS added that this was also supported by "anecdotal evidence suggesting higher demand for takeaways and meal-subscription kits".
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Despite falling consumer confidence, retail sales held up well in January as retailers went to great lengths to keep up the Christmas momentum.
"Falling Covid cases and the slow return to offices offer further hope for town and city centres that were hardest hit by the pandemic.
"Yet, rising inflation means households may be preparing for future falls in disposable income, including from April's National Insurance and energy price cap rises.
"Retailers face similar challenges, with increases in transport and energy costs, global commodity prices and domestic wages."