Retailers suffer in wettest February on record

Total UK retail sales were up by just 1.1% year on year in February, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail sales monitor.

A wet February brought gloom to retailers
Wet weather A wet February brought gloom to retailers (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The wettest February on record led to a miserable month for retailers, with toy sales the only bright spot as parents tried to occupy children inside, figures show.

Total UK retail sales were up by just 1.1% year on year in February, against growth of 5.2% last February, according to the BRC (British Retail Consortium)-KPMG Retail sales monitor.

Food sales were up 6% year on year over the quarter, but even this was below the last February’s growth of 8.3%.

Meanwhile, non-food sales were down 2.5% year-on-year over the three months, against growth of 3.2% last February – steeper than the 12-month average decline of 0.9%.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Consumer demand was dampened by the wettest February on record, translating into a poor month of retail sales growth.

“Not even Valentine’s Day lifted customers out of the gloom, and gifting products that typically sell well, like jewellery and watches, failed to deliver. On the sunnier side, rainy weather did brighten sales of toys, as parents looked for ways to occupy their children indoors.”

Toys were one of the big winners, according to figures
Wet weather Toys were one of the big winners, according to figures

Linda Ellett, UK head of leisure and retail consumer markets at KPMG, said: “As many households continue to adapt budgets to meet higher essential costs, including higher mortgage rates, consumer reluctance to get out there and start spending is likely to remain in the short term.

“With big increases in labour costs and business rates just weeks away, adding to an already stressed cost agenda for retailers, many will be pinning their hopes on some good news in the Chancellors’ Spring Budget this week to help kick-start a spending revival on the high street.”

Separate figures from Barclays also suggest that the wet weather and events such as the Super Bowl and Bafta awards encouraged households to enjoy nights in front of the TV instead of going out in February.

Takeaways and fast food sales increased 5% year-on-year, while digital content and subscriptions saw its highest growth at 11.8% since August 2021, spurred by popular new releases like One Day.

Spending on public transport increased just 3.8% – the smallest rise since March 2021 – as wet and icy weather combined with industrial action caused train cancellations and delays across the country.

Karen Johnson, head of retail at Barclays, said: “February’s wet weather meant Brits chose to spend more time indoors, resulting in a slowdown in high-street and hospitality spending.

“With Brits having reined in discretionary spending during the winter months, and as inflationary pressures begin to ease, retailers will be hopeful that the onset of warmer weather lifts spending – particularly if consumer confidence improves in the summer.”