Retail sales fall over the year but DIY rises 55 per cent

Retail sales volumes fell in the year to September following last month's increase according to the latest CBI monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

The survey of 120 firms, of which 63 were retailers, showed that the volume of sales fell, despite expectations last month that sales would be largely unchanged. However, sales volumes look set to grow slightly in the year to October.

Overall, sales volumes for the time of year were considered to be above seasonal norms.

The volume of orders placed upon suppliers fell for a sixth consecutive month, disappointing expectations of a rebound in order growth.

Within the retail sector, lower sales at grocers, specialist food & drink and footwear & leather were the main drivers of the drop in overall volumes. Meanwhile, strong growth was recorded in clothing, hardware & DIY.

Growth in internet sales volumes slowed further in the year to September, although growth is set to pick up in October.

CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith said: "September is normally an important month for retailers and it’s encouraging to see that sales of clothing, DIY goods and hardware are above seasonal norms.

"However, consumer confidence has been dented since earlier in 2016 and higher inflation is likely to squeeze household incomes over the year ahead. With margins remaining tight, retailers are set to continue to operate in a fiercely competitive environment for some time."

Retailers key findings:

  • 30 per cent of retailers said that sales volumes were up in September on a year ago, while 38 per cent said they were down, giving a balance of minus eight per cent. This was below expectations (plus three per cent), and a decline on the previous month’s balance (plus nine per cent)
  • 27 per cent of respondents expect sales volumes to increase next month, with 20 per cent expecting a decrease, giving a balance of seven per cent.
  • 21 per cent of retailers placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago, while 29 per cent placed fewer orders, giving a balance of minus eight per cent.
  • 19 per cent of businesses reported that their volume of sales for the time of year were good, while 12 per cent said they were poor, giving a balance of + seven per cent
  • Growth in internet sales volumes slowed in the year to September (plus 32 per cent) from the previous month (+42 per cent)
  • Sales volumes grew in clothing (+41 per cent) and hardware and DIY (+55 per cent). Sales volumes fell markedly for grocers (-29 per cent), specialist food & drink (-34 per cent), footwear and leather (-38 per cent).


  • 52 per cent of wholesalers reported sales volumes to be up on last year, and 13 per cent said they were down, giving a balance of +39 per cent.

Meanwhile, Waitrose for the week to 24 September saw sales fall 0.2 per cent. In the eight weeks to 24 September sales are up 4.1 per cent.

Personnel director Helen Hyde said: "Thanks to last week's balmy weather, traditional summer staples such as ice and soft fruit were up 34 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. Shoppers were inspired to bring the sunshine indoors as flower sales were up by 20%, led by sunflowers and gladioli."  

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