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Black Friday and Christmas shopping fail to lift retail sales in November

Lauretta Roberts
16 December 2022

Black Friday and Christmas shopping failed to boost sales for British retailers in November, according to the latest official figures from The Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Retail sales volumes dropped by 0.4% last month, indicating a much weaker month than expected, following a rise of 0.9% in October. The figure was well below the 0.3% rise that economists had predicted. Clothing sales grew but remain below pre-pandemic levels.

ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “Retail sales fell overall in November, driven by a notable drop for online retailers, with Black Friday offers failing to provide their usual lift in this sector.

“However, department stores and household goods shops did report increased sales with these retailers telling us a longer period of Black Friday discounting helped boost sales.

“Food and alcohol sales were also up with consumers stocking up early to try to spread the cost of Christmas festivities.”

Non-store retailers, which means predominantly online shops, suffered a 2.8% drop in sales volumes in November, as shoppers continued to return to the high street following the Covid lockdowns and were deterred from shopping online due to industrial action by postal workers. However, they are still nearly a fifth higher than pre-Covid levels in February 2020.

Food store sales bucked the trend with volumes rising 0.9% in the month, suggesting that people were stocking up early for Christmas.

Nevertheless, in recent months, supermarkets have highlighted that they are seeing a decline in volumes sold because of the increased cost of living including higher food prices, the ONS said.

Despite retailers cutting prices to encourage Christmas spending over the Black Friday sales period, non-food store sales volumes fell by 0.6% in November.

Black Friday was on 25 November and the reporting covers 30 October to 26 November – meaning that Cyber Monday and any following promotion periods will be included in December’s report.

Department stores saw a 1.7% rise in sales over the month, while household goods stores like furniture shops saw sales spike by 4.4%. Some of these retailers said they had offered customers longer Black Friday promotions with offers spanning the whole month, the ONS found.

Clothing shops saw sales rise by 2.1% in November but still remained 2% below the levels reported in February 2020 before the pandemic struck.

Erin Brookes, the head of retail in Europe at management consultancy Alvarez & Marsal, said: “It is clear that retailers are struggling to shift stock, with Christmas sales beginning earlier than in recent years and discounts being offered for a longer period.

“The jury is out on whether the so-called ‘Golden Quarter’ will deliver the festive cheer that the retail sector needs.

“A combination of the cost-of-living crisis, strike disruption and severe weather will likely curtail spending further in December, affecting both in-store and online purchases.”

Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, head of retail at Deloitte, said the figures did not bode well for festive trading, which has been hampered by rail and postal strikes. “With Christmas fast approaching and half of consumers expecting higher overall Christmas expenditure due to rising prices, retailers may find sales this festive season to be cooler than hoped, though the recent cold snap may prove to lift this as consumers seek winter warmers.

“Meanwhile, as Boxing Day sales kick off the traditional end-of-season discounting period, consumers could double down on discounted goods amidst what is likely to be an increasingly competitive promotional environment. Price sensitive consumers will continue to look for value and affordability through 2023. Even as inflation begins to fall, inflationary pressures look set to linger for the foreseeable future.

“As retailers try to clear their stock before the start of a possibly challenging year, some will be more exposed to weakening consumer spending power, particularly those selling non-essential items and household goods. For those retailers, this might may mean a pause on capital expenditure as many will turn their focus towards cost reduction strategies.”

However shoppers are predicted to spend almost £2.9 billion in the final trading weekend before Christmas with some 34.4 million people expected to make a purchase during what has been dubbed "Panic Weekend".

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