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    Sales growth weakens in November as Brits reign in spending

    (Photo by Justin TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

    Black Friday momentum failed to hold throughout November as many households held back on Christmas spending, shows recent data.

    According to figures released by British Retail Consortium on Tuesday (5), total retail sales increased by 2.7 per cent in November, against a growth of 4.2 per cent last year. This was above the 3-month average growth of 2.6 per cent yet below the 12-month average growth of 4.1 per cent.

    Food sales increased 7.6 per cent on a Total basis over the three months to November, showing growth year-on-year. This is below the 12-month average growth of 8.4 per cent.

    Non-Food sales decreased 1.6 per cent on a total basis over the three-months to November, declining year-on-year. Over the three months to November, in-store Non-Food sales decreased 0.8 per cent on a Total basis since November 2022. This is below the 12-month average growth of 0.6 per cent.

    Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said that Black Friday began earlier this year as many retailers tried to give sales a much-needed boost in November.

    “While this had the desired effect initially, the momentum failed to hold throughout the month, as many households held back on Christmas spending. Health and beauty products showed stronger growth, but non-food sales were down overall year on year. November had the highest proportion of non-food goods purchased online for 2023, though this remains below the previous years’ level.

    “Retailers are banking on a last-minute flurry of festive frivolity in December and will continue working hard to deliver an affordable Christmas for customers so everyone can enjoy some Christmas cheer. Looking ahead to 2024, retailers will have to shoulder many new cost pressures, including a rise to business rates, as well as costs from other new regulations. These combined with the biggest rise on record to the National Living Wage will mean retailers will have less capital to invest in lowering prices for their customers.”

    Reacting on food and drink figures, Sarah Bradbury, CEO, IGD, said that for a second month in a row, food and drink sales were down in November compared to October.

    “The comparatives to November ’22 paint a slightly better picture with an increase in sales, although this was offset by a marginal decline in volume. Footfall for the month was down compared to November ’22, a likely result of storms Ciarán and Debi bringing wetter and more windy weather across the country.”

    Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail, KPMG, stated that with the clock ticking down to Christmas, sales growth in November remained weak at 2.7 per cent, despite a big push from retailers around Black Friday deals.

    “Food and drink, health, personal care and beauty categories continued to drive growth whilst jewellery and watches saw the biggest decline in sales on the high street, suggesting consumers are abandoning expensive presents in favour of more budget friendly gifting.  Online sales fell yet again, but penetration rates rose by 5 per cent on October to 41.5 per cent as consumers shopped around for Black Friday bargains.

    “With less than a month to go and sales growth limping along, the cost-of-living crisis has taken its toll on Christmas spending for many households, and the continued economic conditions are testing consumer resilience.  Price remains the main purchasing driver, so we are likely to see a prolonged and well targeted period of discounting as retailers compete hard for a shrinking pool of spend and will need to clear stock.

    “With two of the three months of the crucial golden quarter seeing sales growth below 3 per cent, it has already been a weak Christmas trading period.  Any excess stock not sold before Christmas could be further reduced leading to big January sales, and potentially having an even greater impact on already tight margins.  As we look to the first few months of 2024, we can expect the challenges to continue which could lead to further casualties in the sector, particularly pure online players facing more than 28 months of consecutive sales decline.”

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