UK retail sales fell 3.8% in November as lockdown hit stores

Retail sales fell by 3.8% last month when a four-week lockdown in England closed shops selling non-essential goods, official figures show.

While the monthly drop from October ended six consecutive months of growth within the sector, overall sales remained above their pre-pandemic levels, the Office for National Statistics said.

In November 2020, clothing store sales fell sharply by 19% when compared with the previous month.

Retailers said despite extensive online Black Friday promotions the enforced closure of stores as a result of the COVID-19 crisis impacted sales.

The clothing sector has struggled to recover from the initial declines witnessed immediately after the first nationwide coronavirus lockdown, and remains 30.5% below February’s level.

Fuel sales also shrank by 16.6% as lockdown measures impacted the number of journeys taken.

They remain well below pre-lockdown levels – 23.8% down on February.

Food stores at 3.1% and household goods stores at 1.6% were the only sectors to show growth during the month.

Anecdotal evidence from retailers suggested food sales have been boosted in November by the restrictions on the hospitality industry and a shift in consumer habits, with an increase in “click and collect” users bolstering sales.

For household goods, sales in hardware, paints and glass stores were the main contributor to the monthly growth in November, with feedback from retailers indicating early purchases of Christmas items and home DIY goods in preparation for the festive season had increased turnover.

The year-on-year growth rate in the overall volume of retail sales increased by 2.4%, with feedback from businesses suggesting shoppers had brought forward Christmas spending.

Online retailing accounted for 31.4% of total retailing compared with 28.6% in October 2020, with an overall growth of 74.7% in the value of sales when compared with November 2019.

Commenting on the latest figures Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said: “With shops closed across much of the country in November, it’s no surprise that headline retail sales declined by 3% compared with October.”

She added: “How did consumers continue to spend despite the high street being shut down? Online retail bounced back to 31.4% of sales, a level not seen since June, showing how comfortable consumers are with pivoting to their phones and PCs when unable to shop physically.

“In fact, in some categories, this overwhelming demand for products means that stock may even be in short supply. We’ve already found that the scale of the pre-Christmas discounting that we’ve been accustomed to in previous years as shops clear seasonal stock, is likely to be absent this year.

“But it’s not good news for every sector. As recent administrations have confirmed, fashion continues to experience an annus horribilis, with a monthly volume decline of almost 20%.

“Without Christmas parties and family gatherings to go to this year, lack of demand for new outfits continues to shine a light on overcapacity in this category.

“As we look ahead to the rest of the month, retailers will be hoping that the momentum online in November carries through into physical shops, despite more areas moving into Tier 3, in the final countdown to Christmas.”

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