Euro zone retail sales fell far sharper than expected in January as closed stores due to coronavirus restrictions and muted winter sales suppressed consumer spending except for food and online. 

EU statistics agency Eurostat said today that retail sales were down 5.9% month-on-month in January and by 6.4% year-on-year. 

That compared with the average forecast declines in a Refinitiv poll of 1.1% and 1.2% respectively. 

Sales for food, drink and tobacco rose by 1.1% in the month, but for non-food products except automotive fuel they dropped by 12%, while online sales were up 7.1%. 

The steepest declines were in Austria, Ireland and Slovakia, with sales drops of more than 10%. 

In a separate release, Eurostat also said that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was unchanged in January at 8.1% unchanged from December, which was revised down from the previously reported 8.3% rate. 

Overall, the number of people unemployed in the euro zone increased by 8,000 to 13.28 million. 

A year earlier, the rate was 7.4%. 

Unemployment has not climbed so sharply during the pandemic because of support schemes that keep people in a job even when businesses are closed.