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A third of retail sales online in November, while overall sales appear slightly ahead

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Just over a third of retail sales took place online in November, new figures suggest, while total retail sales appear to have risen slightly during the month.

Some 33.8% of sales took place online in November, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, although the organisation says that estimated figure could in reality be still higher – because of the later timing of Black Friday in 2019.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) measured retail sales between October 27 and November 23, and compared that to the same time last year. Last year that period included peak trading day Black Friday – on November 23 – but this year – when Black Friday was on November 29 – it did not. On a straight comparison, total retail sales fell by 4.4% in November 2019 compared to the same time last year. But when figures were adjusted to take account of Black Friday, sales were up by 0.9% in total. 

That’s the same level of growth as Barclaycard has detected in its consumer spending data for November, also published today. Barclaycard says the “muted” growth is likely to mean a “frugal festive season”. Barclaycard director Esme Harwood said: “With a backdrop of political uncertainty, consumer confidence has remained low this month – particularly amongst younger consumers – as Brits focus on discount shopping in a bid to tighten their purse strings this Christmas.

“Throughout 2019 we have seen the nation managing their budgets by seeking greater value for money, and this trend looks set to continue in December. As we head into the busy shopping season, retailers will no doubt be crossing their fingers for consumer confidence to rise enough to deliver some Christmas cheer”.

The BRC figures also suggest that on a like-for-like basis, which strips out the effect of store and business openings and closures, retail sales fell by 4.9%, but adjusting for Black Friday, they were up by 0.4%.

The BRC’s unadjusted figures suggest that online sales fell by 10.1% in November – but again it says there’s likely to be a Black Friday distortion there. Some 33.8% of non-food sales took place online, though, says the BRC, “this would likely be much higher if Black Friday and Cyber Monday were included.”

“Once the figures are adjusted to take account of the timing of Black Friday, growth appears strong in November than in previous months,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC. “Shoppers appeared ready to take advantage of the great bargains available, both online and on the high street. Electronics and clothes both benefited from big discounts, with the recent cold snap adding further urgency to purchases of winter-wear. Furthermore, as the spectre of a no deal Brexit has been pushed back to after Christmas, consumers were more prepared to open their wallets to a little extra festive spending.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “At first glance, November’s decline in like-for-like retail sales of -4.9% will leave retailers reaching for the smelling salts but context is key. If adjusted for the later later timing of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, sales are more likely to have increased by a more palatable 0.4% like-for-like. 

“Over the course of November, consumers will have held off making purchases in anticipation of discounts to come, despite many retailers spreading out promotions across several days, if not weeks. That said, consumers will also have put Brexit and political uncertainty to one side temporarily, focussing on promotions and the upcoming festivities instead.

“The key question will be whether demand can rebound enough to make up for several disappointing months of trading this year. Grocers are likely to have weathered the storm better than most but Black Friday is key to many non-food categories.   

“Retailers have their foot to the floor during this critical trading period, but it won’t be until Christmas trading reports land in January that we’ll truly know whether their strategies have proved fruitful.”

Image: Fotolia

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