Romance rubs off February's sales figures

The slowdown for Britain’s grocers is likely to set alarm bells ringing in the City

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The Independent Online

The “home and the heart” gave the high street a fillip last month, but it was not enough to prevent a positive start to the year for Britain’s retailers grinding to a halt. 

Shoppers splashed out on Valentine’s Day gifts, and kitted out their new homes with furniture, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG’s data for February showed. However, across the high street, sales at stores open longer than a year grew just 0.1 per cent on last year – in contrast to January, in which sales rose by 2.6 per cent – while total sales grew 1.1 per cent. 

The food sector – in which the supermarket price war continues to stoke deflation and hamper revenue advances – held back retail sales growth, with store sales down 1.1 per cent, compared with 2.5 per cent for non-food products. 

The slowdown for Britain’s grocers is likely to set alarm bells ringing in the City as discounters Aldi and Lidl continue to put pressure on larger rivals including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons (which posts its annual results on Thursday). 

The BRC said a “buoyant” housing market had helped drive furniture and home accessories sales and this trend continued online, with non-food sales up 10.7 per cent. Jewellers saw sales sparkle as romantics put their wallets were their hearts were, but the wider fashion sector struggled.

David McCorquodale, KPMG’s head of retail, said: “The home and the heart drove February’s sales growth as home improvement and Valentine’s Day campaigns brought their rewards. Furniture was once again the strongest category, helped by a buoyant housing market and promotional activity by retailers in the sector.  

“Unfortunately the Valentine’s effect did not rub off on food and drink sales, which declined for the second month of the year.”