UK sees solid November retail sales with Black Friday boost
By Jenni Reid
08:23, 7 December 2021
UK retail sales grew above their three-month average last month, indicating a boost from the US import of Black Friday sales, which were seen in stores throughout November.
Sales increased by 5% year-on-year, an improvement on the 0.9% inched up by last year, when the UK was in lockdown for the majority of the month. That was above the three-month average of 2.2% but below the 12-month average of 9.9%.
Sales were also 4.1% ahead of 2019, before-the-pandemic figures published by the British Retail Consortium and KPMG showed.
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, called it a “solid month”.
Hitting the high street
The increase was fuelled by a return to bricks and mortar shops, which saw monthly growth in sales excluding food.
A 30.5% rise in in-store spending in the three months prior to November offset a 17.9% fall in online sales, the data also showed. In-store spending, however, was down 5.1% on a two-year basis, suggesting continuing struggles for the British high street.
Food sales fell last month and grew by just 0.1% in the three months to November.
Susan Barratt, chief executive of retail analysis group IGD, said sales struggled to compete with a lockdown month during which people mostly cooked at home, but the activity “picked up in the second half of the month as shoppers started to ramp up spending in preparation for Christmas and the festive period.”
Product categories were a mixed bag, with sales up in jewellery/watches, clothing, footwear, health/beauty and furniture, but down in computing, stationery, household appliances, toys/baby equipment and home accessories.
On the Black Friday effect, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, commented: “The American holiday has now become a month-long affair in the UK, with deals spread over a longer period than ever before. As people prepared their wardrobes for the cold weather this winter, consumers took advantage of discounted clothing, shifting the focus of Black Friday from just electronics and household appliances.”
“While e-commerce was significantly down on last year when lockdown pushed more consumers online, it still remains almost one-fifth up on pre-pandemic levels, accounting for almost half of all non-food spend,” Dickinson added.
Pantheon Macroeconomics’ Samuel Tombs said he believed sales would dip in December.
“Shoppers probably have purchased Christmas gifts earlier than usual this year due to concerns about product availability,” he said, referencing well-publicised global supply chain issues.
Concern over the Omicron variant would further depress sales, he predicted, while a pessimistic outlook on disposable incomes due to high inflation and tax rises mean retail sales may “merely flatline” in the first half of 2022.
Helen Dickinson agreed that consumers had shopped earlier for gifts this year due to supply concerns and said that “spending patterns suggest that sales could be more spread out than in previous years”.
“Retailers are doing everything they can to prepare stores, warehouses and deliveries ahead of Christmas, prioritising all the food and gifts that customers will need to enjoy the festive season,” she added.
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, noted a further concern for post-Christmas spending.
“Rising costs continue to bite into margins and supply chain issues have impacted the availability of goods, leaving retailers with very little room for the mega discounting events we have seen in previous January sales,” he said.