Taking a broader perspective, the UK’s retail sales volumes in the three months leading up to August 2023 increased by 0.3% when compared to the previous three months.

In terms of value, retail sales were notably higher, standing at 17.3% above their pre-COVID-19 levels in February 2020. However, in terms of actual sales volumes, there was a 1.5% decrease.

August UK retail results overview

  • Total non-food store sales volumes (the total of department, clothing, household and other non-food stores) grew by 0.6% in August 2023, following a fall of 1.2% in July 2023 when feedback from retailers suggested that poor weather conditions affected sales.
  • Within non-food, clothing stores sales volumes rose by 2.3% in August 2023, mostly recovering from their fall of 2.9% in July.
  • Online textile, clothing and footwear store sales as a proportion of retail grew 28.5% during August.
  • Year-on-year comparisons for August demonstrate a 17.8% rise in sales.

The statistics agency said internet sales dropped slightly in August as some consumers returned to shopping in person following a very wet July. Based on feedback from online retailers, ONS said that wet weather and a range of promotions boosted July sales.

The Met Office’s monthly climate report for July indicated that the UK received 170.0% of the usual rainfall for that month, marking it tentatively as the rainiest July since 2009 and the sixth rainiest July on record since 1836.

Although the weather in August 2023 showed some improvement over July, it remained a month characterised by variable and unsettled conditions.

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Supermarkets in particular reported a decline in summer clothing sales linked to wet weather.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, commented on the latest figures from the ONS Retail Sales Index, saying: “Returning consumer confidence helped retail sales regain lost ground after a challenging July. Toiletries, cosmetics, and books performed particularly well as consumers purchased holiday essentials for their late summer getaways. Although white goods and other big-ticket items continued to take a hit as households spent more cautiously.”

Retailers suggested that consumers were still struggling with the increased cost of living and prices. Dickinson echoed this and said whilst the cost-of-living challenges continue to loom, retailers are working hard to ensure customers revive the best possible value.

She continued to emphasise the significance of the upcoming months for retailers, as they gear up for the crucial Christmas trading period.

In addition, she called for the Chancellor to reconsider the impending rise in business rates, which would impose a substantial financial burden on retailers, potentially amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds annually.

The latest retail sales data by the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor (RSM), revealed consumer confidence had surged, which led to a 4.1% increase in total retail sales for the month of August.

In July, online sales in the UK increased, despite overall retail sales falling by 2.6% as wet weather and the cost of living continued to trouble customers.