Next (2)

February was a good month for retail, the best for some time, but can it continue? There was some bona fire good news lurking in the data which reveals an opportunity for some start-ups.

As far as retail is concerned, there is one thing that last November, December and January had in common. And that is that each month saw a month on month fall in retail sales.

February was different. Retail sales rose by 1.4 per cent compared to January and by 3.7 per cent year on year.

That was more like it.

Then again, some kind of bounce-back was inevitable, four successive months of falls would have been terrible. And for that reason, some form of February recovery was expected. Admittedly the recovery was stronger than expected.

But the underlying trend may be more relevant, and the ONS, which produces the data, puts more emphasis on how sales in the last three months did compared to the previous three months. And in the three months to February, retail sales fell by 1.4 per cent compared to the previous three month period.

The rest of this year looks set to be challenging for retail, after-all inflation is set to rise to a level that is greater than increases in average wages. Besides, today Next announced its first fall in annual profits in eight years (down 5.5 per cent) and warned of a tough year ahead.

But there was some good news. Online retail sales rose 3.3 per cent month on month and by 20.7 per cent year on year. Online sales now make up 15.3 per cent of all retail spending, something that all budding entrepreneurs with an interest in retail need to bear in mind.