Chart of the day: the rise of the online shopping

The internet now accounts for 10.7 per cent of all retail sales

The latest retail sales figures have been released by the Office for National Statistics, and they are generally bad news. Year on year, there has been recovery in the sector, with sales up 3.2 per cent in value terms and 1.0 per cent in volume terms, but in the short term retail sales fell 0.8 per cent in volume terms and 0.4 per cent in value terms between January and February, worse than expected. The ONS also revised down its January figures.

David Kern, Chief Economist at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said:

A fall in sales in February was widely expected following the relatively strong figures seen in December and January.

The poor weather in the first week of the month could have hindered the retail market, so these figures should not cause undue concern. Longer-term comparisons show that while the growth in sales remains in positive territory, the pace of expansion is modest. The value of sales has risen by more than 3 per cent over the past year, which is mainly due to inflation. If hikes in energy and food prices persist, this could create new obstacles to a sustained recovery in retail trade and in consumer spending in general.

Although non-store retailing (internet and mail-order shopping) is growing long-term as our headline chart shows, it too has suffered a weak February. Month-on-month, it shrank by 0.4 per cent, the biggest decline since August last year, and its annual growth, although easily outstripping offline retail, was "only" 8.6 per cent, the lowest year-on-year growth since November 2010. The proportion of sales made via the internet alone is estimated to have been 10.7 per cent of the total (excluding fuel, which remains tricky to buy online).

Price inflation in food stores rose to 3.9 per cent from 3.5 per cent last month, raising questions about the extent to which falling inflation (or "disinflation") will aid consumer demand as was predicted. The FT reports:

Simon Hayes, an economist at Barclays Capital, said he expected the pressure on real household disposable income to ease this year and consumption to strengthen. “However, falling inflation is a key element of our forecast that consumption will pick up, and recent upside news on consumer prices puts a question mark over the degree of support from this direction."

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.