UK retail sales massively beat expectations in November as UK shoppers went on a Black Friday spending spree. Online sales played a major part in the month´s performance, accounting for nearly a fifth of all UK retail sales.
The 1.1% rise in November compared with a 0.5% increase in October and consensus forecasts for just a 0.4% improvement.
“Retailers’ feedback suggests that “Black Friday” events contributed to the monthly increase in household goods stores, with electrical household appliances making the largest contribution to the growth,” said the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in its monthly bulletin on Thursday.
Tellingly, online sales appeared to play an important role in November´s showing.
ONS figures show that the internet accounted for 17% of all retail sales in the month.
This ties in with earlier anecdotal signs that retailers had continued to move an increasing proportion of their Black Friday discounting online.
Black Friday itself is also closely followed by Cyber Monday.
All in all, retail sales transacted online in November grew 10.2% year-on-year.
A fleeting boost
The rising trend of online shopping and the increasing propensity for retailers to put more of their promotions on the internet goes some way to explaining why November´s strong figures contrasted with earlier signs of sluggish consumer spending.
On an annual basis, total UK retail sales grew by 1.6% in November compared with a 0.3% decline in October.
While taking advantage of online promotions, it´s possible that shoppers have brought forward some of the seasonal spending that usually takes place in December and January.
Some economists are understandably cautious about reading too much into November´s strong showing.
“The boost from Black Friday will be fleeting,” commented Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
Rather oddly, the official retail spending figures released on Thursday sharply contradict the consumer spending data published by credit card firm Visa on Monday.
It reckoned UK household spending had fallen 0.9% in November year-on-year, the third consecutive monthly decline in its measure.
Visa also claimed UK consumer spending had dropped by a very sizeable 2.1% year-on-year in October.
The ONS data however are much more in line with the BRC – KPMG retail sales figures released in early December.
According to the latter gauge, retail sales rose by 1.5% in November on a total basis compared with growth of 1.3% in November 2016.