Retail sales volumes fell 0.3 per cent last month as Brits made the most of Covid restrictions abating.
Stormy weather also deterred shoppers from making trips to the high street, with Storm Eunice and Storm Dudley causing travel haovc across the country last month.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shoppers bought less food in store in February, with sales volumes dropping 0.2 per cent.
There were significant falls in alcohol and tobacco stores, with higher spending in pubs and restaurants as confidence to socialise returned.
The country was subject to renewed temporary Covid measures at the end of last year, with Brits instructed to work from home and wear masks in public settings once more.
The total retail sales volumes drop comes in comparison to a rise of 1.9 per cent in January 2022.
Sales volumes were 3.7 per cent above pre-Covid February 2020 levels.
As fears of the Omicron Covid variant abated, the proportion of retail sales online continued to dip, hitting its lowest proportion since March 2020. Some 27.8 per cent of retail sales were made online in February.
Karen Johnson, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said the data implied inflationary pressures had failed to impact consumer spending appetite last month.
“How this changes in March, with all the has happened over the last few weeks, is anyone’s guess,” she added.
Johnson said: “February also saw Covid restrictions lifted and the mass return of workers to their offices. This led to notable increases in spending on clothing (as people kitted out their new wardrobes), and furniture (as customers returned to showrooms with the confidence to both try products and make purchases). It also led to a reduction in the proportion of sales being made online versus last year, and suggests the industry has now come to the other side of its pandemic-driven ‘bounce’ in online spend.”
A slowdown in spend is on the cards in the coming months, Silvia Rindone, EY UK & Ireland retail lead, said.
She added: “For now, long-awaited holidays and getting out and about to enjoy experiences and hospitality seem to be a priority for some, with many UK consumers able to tap into savings built up during the pandemic.
“Over the course of the year, we expect to see a general switching of non-discretionary spend to lower cost alternatives, with the more expensive options kept as treats for special occasions. We also expect higher-value discretionary spend to fall.”