No End of Year Rise for UK Retail Sales

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UK retail sales unexpectedly stagnated in November as spending at department stores slumped the most in almost two years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced sales volumes were flat in November compared with October. Retail sales had been expected to bounce back after October’s shock 0.8% fall.

Anna Leach, analyst at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said “This month’s survey hasn’t quite provided the Christmas cheer that retailers anticipated, with sales growth falling short of expectations”. Rob Wood, former Bank of England official, said “The economic outlook has got worse and consumers are probably still really uncertain”.

One bright spot was in household goods stores, where sales rose by 3.8% on the month, including consumer electrical items. The pick-up in electrical sales may in part reflect a rush to buy discounted stock at the failed Comet chain, which closed its doors for the final time earlier this week. Also some retailers are bucking the trend, such as John Lewis, Britain’s biggest department store group, which reported record weekly sales for a second straight week.

Meanwhile, there are growing calls for the government to extend opening hours on Sunday, 23 December, the last trading day before Christmas. Mark Price, managing director of Waitrose, said “I think that Sunday is going to be a real challenge for our customers and for our partners. The 23rd is always the busiest shopping day for food. Last year we had 14 hours to serve our customers on that day, this year we’ve got six hours. Clearly that’s going to be difficult”.

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