Cost of living: Fall in UK retail sales during festive countdown 'far from catastrophic'

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Black Friday and early Christmas shopping failed to lift the fortunes of UK retailers last month, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that retail sales volumes slipped 0.4 per cent in November, indicating a much weaker month than expected and following a rise of 0.9 per cent in October. Economists had predicted that sales would rise by 0.3 per cent. Separate figures earlier this week from the Scottish Retail Consortium revealed a modest 0.6 per cent uptick in total sales last month as discounting helped draw shoppers to high streets and shopping centres north of the Border..

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.”

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

Charlie Huggins, head of equities at Wealth Club, said: “Given all the doom and gloom surrounding the UK economy, [these] retail sales figures are far from catastrophic. UK consumers may not be feeling flush with cash, but they are still spending at a similar rate to last year. Stores are faring better than online, probably aided by the Royal Mail strikes, and clothing sales in store rose, which doesn’t exactly suggest Armageddon.”

Lynda Petherick, retail lead at Accenture in the UK & Ireland, noted: “The fact that not even the World Cup and Black Friday Christmas shopping could produce an increase in sales will come as a major disappointment to retailers, especially considering the increase [the previous month]. The sector continues to battle spiralling costs, which are now being exacerbated further by weather, travel and delivery disruption.”

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