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Retail sales growth ‘disappointing’ on- and offline in October

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Slowing retail sales, both online and offline, were today a reminder of “difficult economic realities”, the British Retail Consortium said today.

Online sales grew by just 7.3% in October, putting in their second-weakest performance in years, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for October 2012. Last month rates are the second lowest in four years, undercut only by this August, when growth of 4.8% was recorded.

More than 90% of UK retail sales take place offline, and across UK retail like-for-like sales fell by 0.1% last month, compared to the same time last year. Total sales grew by only 1.1% – the worst growth for 11 months.

“October was a disappointing month for online sales, mirroring the overall picture,” said Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC. “In fact, the last three months include the two weakest growth rates of the four years we’ve been collecting these figures. That’s partly about disposable incomes being squeezed and people holding off making major purchases but also it’s inevitable growth will slow as online retailing matures and becomes established practice with a bigger proportion of shoppers.

“There is good news. Click and collect services are continuing to grow well. But retailers will be hoping that autumnal weather and thoughts of Christmas will start to translate into much stronger online spending soon.”

Across retail, food sales grew by 0.7%, on a like-for-like basis, higher than the 0.2% growth put in by like-for-like sales of non-food items. Footwear was the fastest growing category, followed by food, clothing, furniture and flooring and house textiles and health and beauty. But other non-food sales fell, while the home accessories category was also down.

Robertson added: “The disappointing figures are a reminder of the difficult economic realities many are still facing. Falling consumer confidence means people are limiting spending to essential items and are cautious about committing to big-ticket and discretionary buying.”

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said the figures were disappointing, given the stronger figures seen in September when UK retail sales grew by 3.4% and online sales by 9.9%. “It was broadly anticipated that we’d have a strong October,” he said. “Like a rocket, clothing and footwear sales soared into double-digit like-for-like growth in the first week but then faded in the latter half of the month, showing that consumers may have bought into autumn/winter collections but are still too nervous to fill their wardrobes with them.”

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