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November shopper spending slowed across channels as Black Friday approached: ONS

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The latest official retail figures suggest the extent to which shopper spending slowed in the run-up to this year’s Black Friday event. 

The Office for National Statistics’ Retail Sales report for November 2019 suggests that shoppers spent 1.5% more in November than a year earlier, to buy 0.8% more goods, excluding automotive fuel. But they spent 0.5% less than they did in October, the previous month, and bought 0.6% fewer goods. 

Commenting, Rhian Murphy, head of retail sales at the ONS, said: “Retail sales fell in the latest three months, which is the first decline seen since April 2018. All main sectors saw their sales fall with the exception of food stores. 

“The spending dip in November was the fourth consecutive month to see no growth.”

The ONS report covers the four weeks to November 23 and does not include Black Friday 2019, which this year fell on November 29. While some Black Friday promotions had started by November 23, most spending will have come after the ONS survey. While the study does not include Black Friday, it does give useful insights into the extent to which shoppers spending slowed in the run up to November 29.

Karen Johnson, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said: “Disappointing figures from the retail sector in November but in its defence with Black Friday coming at the end fo the month and not covered by this reporting period, it’s reasonable to assume that many shoppers held on to their cash to splash out on the bargains to be had during that annual sales fest, particularly as it coincided with payday for millions of consumers. 

“Discounting in the run up to Christmas such a crucial time for retailers’ fortunes, can be a risky strategy but those who have planned sensibly and strategically should report a better set of returns in the next update.”

The shape of online sales 

Online sales grew by 2.6%, year-on-year, but fell by 2.6% compared to the previous month. They accounted for 18.7% of all UK retail sales. The sharpest online declines were seen in department stores (-17% YOY, 12.6% MOM). Some 14.2% of spending in this sector took place online. Household goods ecommerce sales fell by 9.1 on last month and last year, with 14.4% of spending in this category taking place online. Clothing, footwear and textile sales were down compared to last year (-0.4%) and the previous month (-1.9%). But non-store retailing – a category that primarily includes pureplay retailers – held up compared to last year (+8.9%) and declined slightly on the previous month (-1.3%). Some 78.9% of spending in this category took place online. 

Non-food sales together fell by 4.9% on last year, and by 4.8% on the previous month – suggesting that Christmas shoppers were holding out for discounts. But food sales also fell slightly, declining by 1.2% on last year, and by 1.8% on last month. 

Image: Fotolia

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