Retail spending figures boosted by Christmas sales

Early pre-Christmas promotions gave a surprise lift to British retail sales in October, driving up volumes at their fastest pace since June, the Office for National Statistics has found.

Christmas spending is underway - image: HW
Christmas spending is underway - image: HW

Sales volumes including automotive fuel rose 0.6 per cent last month after a 0.5 per cent rise in September, confounding forecasts for a fall of 0.2 percent.

On the year, sales rose 0.9 percent, also well above expectations for a flat reading.

The ONS said sales volumes were driven higher by widespread discounting by retailers in the run-up to Christmas.

The ONS said there had been a particularly strong rise in sales of computers, telecoms, sporting goods, toys, watches and jewellery.

These stores come under the 'other stores' category, which recorded its highest monthly rise in sales since July 2010.

"Feedback from retailers was that growth in sales came as a result of pre-Christmas sales and promotions across the board," the ONS said.

Excluding fuel, retail sales rose 0.6 percent on the month and were up 0.9 percent on the year.

But the the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has found total retail sales values up 1.5 per cent on a year ago, meaning customers are actually buying less when the impact of inflation is factored in.

 

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said: "Most retailers won’t recognise the overly positive picture being painted by these ONS results. The reality is disposable incomes are down on a year ago and customers are cutting back.

 

"Even food sales are suffering as people cut back or switch to cheaper brands in an effort to balance their household budgets. Stores are competing hard for what customer spending is available but consumers are overwhelmingly gloomy. Sales that happen come at the cost of reduced margins as retailers cut prices while facing higher business costs.

 

"We need the Chancellor to support households and businesses by holding back the costs he’s responsible for. He should scrap the increases in fuel duty planned for next year and reduce the threatened 5.6 per cent business rates rise. At a time when youth unemployment has passed the one million mark, promoting growth in a sector where under 25s make up a third of the workforce should be a priority for the Government."

Garden Centre Association figures show sales were down 0.43 per cent in October and were less than one per cent up for the year to date.


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