Retail: November another subdued month on the high street, ONS figures suggest

Peter Glynn of Barclays.

Peter Glynn of Barclays.

Britain’s shoppers remained cautious in their spending last month, official figures showed today.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said November sales volumes rose 0.3% on the previous month, when sales were down by 0.9%.

Sales volumes overall were 2% higher on November 2012 earlier but were flat on a three-month basis compared with the previous quarter.

There were mixed performances from different store types during November, as a better month for clothing shops was offset by weakness in department stores and petrol stations.

Retailers will now be pinning their hopes for the key festive trading season on a sharp rebound in the final weeks before Christmas.

And the CBI’s latest distributive trades survey earlier this week indicated that their wish might be granted, with signs of an increase in activity in the first two weeks of December.

Yesterday’s November data from the ONS showed that a record 11.9% of all sales were made online during the month, with feedback from department stores suggesting that investment in their internet sites had boosted sales at the expense of store business.

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Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “With purchasing power being limited by consumer price inflation running well above earnings growth for a prolonged period, it is likely that many people have felt the need to control their spending after spending at a rapid rate in the third quarter.”

Carl Astorri, senior economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club, described the November retail sales figure as uninspiring, rising only modestly from a weak October level.

He added that unless there is a sharp rebound in December, the overall performance for the fourth quarter will be relatively flat.

Mr Astorri said: “Such a loss of consumer momentum is a little concerning, given the importance of the consumer to the wider recovery so far.

“We do still expect the consumer to play a key role in growth in 2014, supported by growing real incomes and a healthy labour market. But there is a risk this could disappoint, which emphasises the need for growth to broaden out towards exports and investment.”

Peter Glynn, retail and wholesale specialist at Barclays Eastern Region, said: “Retailers are hoping for the proverbial late Christmas with consumers expected to make a last-minute dash for the shops this weekend.

“What discounting there is on the high street has been largely planned by retailers so consumers will be able to bag some late bargains while stocking up on food and drink to see them through the festive period.

“Regionally, anecdotal evidence in the major Eastern Region shopping destinations of Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich and Peterborough was that early December sales were disappointing, but that shoppers were out in numbers last week and this week, with the run into Christmas, is expected to be very busy indeed.”