British retail sales accelerated last month, boosted by heavy pre-Christmas Black Friday discounting prior to the arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant, official data showed Friday.
The upbeat data came one day after the Bank of England hiked interest rates to 0.25 percent in an attempt to douse hot inflation, despite the increasingly rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus strain.
“A second successive strong outturn for retail sales in November suggests that consumer spending was in decent shape before the Omicron variant emerged,” said EY ITEM Club economist Martin Beck.
However, he also sounded a cautious note on the outlook as UK coronavirus cases continue to spike ahead of Christmas.
“The short-term outlook for the retail sector is uncertain. Household spending power is increasingly coming under pressure from rising inflation, while the rise in Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant will reduce footfall.”
Retailers slash the cost of certain items on so-called Black Friday, at the start of the festive period, in a bid to boost their Christmas performance. Black Friday took place this year on November 26.
“It is clear that plenty of customers used the Black Friday sales as an opportunity to snap up bargains ahead of Christmas. This sales event, once limited to the last week in November, has now become a month-long discounting event,” Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, commented.
She added that retailers’ focus is now squarely in the final preparations for Christmas.
“Rising Covid cases will be a big concern for many customers, however retail staffing is currently at manageable levels. There has already been a gargantuan effort to ensure that essential food and gifts are ready for the festive season, despite ongoing challenges in the supply chain,” she noted.
“We remain confident it will be a great Christmas for consumers, and retailers are pulling out the stops to keep staff and customers as safe as possible during these difficult times.”