British retail sales fall unexpectedly in August

ended 17. September 2021

Retail sales fell unexpectedly in August

In a surprise for economists, ONS data published this AM showed British retail sales volumes unexpectedly fell last month.

The volume of monthly retail sales fell 0.9% between July and August, which means it's now the longest streak of retail sales declines since records began. We asked small retail businesses around the UK how August was for them.

Small businesses react

14 responses from the Newspage community

Star Quote
"My new eco-friendly fashion retail brand, Birds Can Fly, had a very slow August and early September. As a new lockdown entrepreneur, I rely on my intuition to understand why. I felt that this was a combination of unpredictable summer weather and a general sense of insecurity bought on by COVID. We're all feeling it, we're all emerging into a new normal and I suspect that this general sense of unease is to blame. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a more productive autumn and winter."
Star Quote
"The 2500 retailers we work with say August was slow overall, which isn't massively unusual as people focus on the holidays and their children. Fortunately, the feedback we're getting now is that things have started picking up in September and the small businesses on our platform are optimistic about the run-up to Christmas."
Star Quote
"August was a very quiet month both with in-store and online sales. Sales have reduced by around 25% on last year, and 50% on the same time in 2019. Shoppers are still apprehensive about 'normality', and many have cited pending summer months catching up wth friends and relatives rather than shopping and doing the mundane after 16 months of lockdowns and restrictions. I hope the next few months will see an increase in sales as we head towards Christmas, but I am doubtful sales will be anywhere near pre-pandemic levels this year."
Star Quote
Owner at Miss A.M.I
"August was my worst month ever and I am yet to see an improvement. I think so many people were doing other things this summer that this hit most of retail, which is hard to deal with after the last 18 months of hell we have already faced."
Star Quote
"August was the worst month for sales in the past 12 months, without a doubt. As someone who jumped from being employed for 15 years to self-employed in February I’m really nervous about the remainder of the year. I'm concerned I made a mistake setting up a small retail business in the current climate, as it's tough out there."
Star Quote
"With school holidays, staycations and the opening up of overseas travel (and additional PCR testing costs), it's no surprise British retail sales fell during August. This also corresponds with less Government support for individuals and supply issues due to a shortage of HGV drivers to deliver goods to stores. "I'd expect an increase in retail sales volumes in the months ahead in the run up to Christmas, but this is entirely dependent on availability of stock, shortages of HGV drivers, possibility of staff isolation and the potential of further firebreak lockdowns. I am aware of some retailers who had issues ordering stock due to the purchase process being disrupted by staff isolation, Covid illness or delivery issues, with those able to order stock, having it stuck on ships or in containers at British ports, unable to get them delivered to store to sell."
"August wasn't great for us and on this evidence we weren't alone. As a new business, you’re thinking: “Have we done something wrong?”. The good news for us is that September and beyond are looking much healthier. Sales and enquiries have massively picked up and we’re back to busy again with companies welcoming colleagues back to the office with gift boxes. We hope other retailers can say the same."
"After the last year, people are clearly thinking long and hard about what they buy and, fundamentally, about whether they really need it. I know for me things are now much more about a purposeful buy, as opposed to buying on a whim, which I'm not sure will change."
“August 2021 coincided with our 10th anniversary in business. Coincidentally it was also our best August since we started our business. I won’t sugar coat it, it’s been a long hard slog. Our pipeline is looking healthy for the reminder of the year, the team is reinvigorated and buzzing and it feels a lot different to this time last year”
"August is a historically quiet sales month for me, but what is more concerning is that during September so far, sales have not picked up as much as I'd anticipated. The fourth quarter is a really important time of the year for so many small businesses, so I think there is a lot of hope for these next few months in the lead up to Christmas."
"I'm currently recruiting for some professional courses in complementary therapies such as reflexology, aromatherapy, and massage. It is very difficult to get people to commit to spending a few grand on something that will change their lives because times are so changeable: people are keeping their hand on their ha'penny, to quote a phrase. Sadly this may mean smaller training providers like ourselves will fall by the wayside and they won't have the chance to train anywhere that isn't an FE college, with all that that implies for the future of the therapy industry."
"August 2021 was our most successful month ever, after July 2021 but we are not in retail, we provide housework services. When people buy from us, they are buying time. Post-lockdowns, we are finding that consumers are more interested in buying time and memories than accumulating things, society has changed, our values have shifted. The retail figures suggest this may well be a permanent shift."
"August for The Little Sensory Box was a great month, after sales declined during June and July. August was busy and I fully expect this to continue throughout September and October."
I look after a number of retail clients. Being digital, my focus is mostly on driving online sales which is a direct competitor to the high street version of these brands. There has been a drop across the board for all digital sales too, so retail spend hasn’t been diverted in that direction during August. It’s been a strange month, where foreign holidays, staycations and more confidence to get out and about has had consumers spending their money elsewhere. With looming tax hikes and uncertainty about the impact of the end of the furlough scheme, we shall have to see how the final quarter of the year results perform. We’re starting to face the economic impact of covid and Brexit, and consumer confidence has been really difficult to judge.