Official figures confirm ‘Black Friday’ boost for retail sales

Is it really a bargain?

Is it really a bargain? - Credit: PA

Retail sales grew at their strongest pace for 11 months in November as the high street was boosted by the “Black Friday” surge, official figures showed today.

Sales volumes grew by 1.6% month on month as retailers stepped up their pre-Christmas offers, the biggest increase since a 2.7% boom in December last year.

There was growth in all types of stores for the first time since last December, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Year-on-year growth of 6.4% was the best since May 2004, although last year’s November figures did not include Black Friday trading.

Customers were attracted by average store prices which were down 2% compared with the same month last year, the largest fall since August 2002.

This was mainly driven by petrol stations, although prices in food stores showed their largest decrease since June 2002, down by 1%.

The month-on-month growth was much better than the expected 0.4% increase and helped sterling spike by a cent against both the US dollar and the euro.

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Black Friday helped electrical appliance sales increase by 32% compared with the same month last year, though by value they were up 21.5%, showing the impact of discounting in shifting stock.

Year-on-year retail growth was driven by non-food store volume sales up 10.8% with department stores rising 15.5% and textile, clothing and footwear retailers up 4.9% and household goods shops up 16.8%.

Grocers saw a 1.5% year-on-year increase, much smaller than the other sectors but the best figure in seven months, during a tough period for supermarkets.

However year-on-year sales by value for mainly food stores were up just 0.5%, weaker than the previous month and showing the price squeeze facing the sector amid the threat from discounters Aldi and Lidl.

Retail sales by value were up 1.2% month on month and 4.3% year on year, with online sales up 2.9% month on month and 12.9% year on year. Average weekly spend in the retail sector was £7.9 billion in November this year.

The ONS said the underlying pattern of three-month on three-month volume sales had increased for the 21st month, which was the longest period of sustained growth since November 2007.

Maeve Johnston, of Capital Economics, said: “While retail sales volumes in November were boosted by UK retailers’ adoption of the US tradition for Black Friday discounts, the underlying picture looks encouraging too.”

She said that, with the fall in the oil price and pay growth expected to accelerate further ahead of inflation, prospects were bright for retail sales for 2015.

Markit chief economist Chris Williamson said: “Questions will of course be asked as to whether the Black Friday discounts merely mean spending has been brought forward ahead of the usual Christmas spree but at the moment it certainly looks like retail sales are on a firm upward trend.

“The outlook for consumer spending is certainly one of the best that we’ve seen since the recession struck.”

Howard Archer, of IHS Global Insight, said: “In the wider context of the economy, the strength of retail sales in November gives a serious lift to GDP growth prospects in the fourth quarter and increases the chances that it could at least match the 0.7% quarter-on-quarter rate seen in the third quarter.”

Ian Geddes, UK head of retail at Deloitte, said: “These are very strong numbers that beat expectations, with growth hitting a 10-year high.

“Looking beyond the headline figures, we need to take into account that for the last two years Black Friday has fallen in the December trading period.”