UK retail sales fell 0.4% in November

  • 15 December 2011
  • From the section Business

Widespread discounting on the High Street failed to stop retail sales falling by 0.4% in November from the month before.

Excluding spending on fuel, retail sales fell 0.7% on the month, according the Office for National Statistics.

The data revealed that consumers had cut back spending on computers, mobile phones, watches and jewellery, but that clothes sales had recovered.

The British Retail Consortium said the figures were "miserable".

The fall in November follows a surprise rise in sales in October, which analysts said was due to the start of deep discounting by retailers.

The ONS on Thursday also revised up its figures for the three months to the end of November. This meant sales rose 0.7% over the quarter, the strongest three-month gain since August 2010.

Retailers are under pressure as consumers rein in spending and businesses are looking to the Christmas sales period for a boost.

Stephen Robertson, director-general of the British Retail Consortium, said the data showed that November was "a very trying month".

"Non-food is having a thoroughly miserable and difficult time," he told the BBC.

'Uncertain' outlook

However, Philip Shaw, at Investec, said that the sales fall in November was not necessarily a surprise, given the prior quarter had been solid.

"Perhaps the rise in textile store sales (over the three months) was a little bit of an anomaly, given relatively warm weather. But in terms of the broad trend in sales volumes, it still looks a little bit firmer than had been the case earlier in the year.

"But the outlook for the economy and consumer spending specifically remains uncertain," Mr Shaw said.

Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, added: "It may be that a substantial number of consumers are delaying their Christmas purchases in the belief/hope that struggling retailers will increasingly engage in discounting and promotions as the Big Day draws ever nearer."

The sales figures come two days after a Government-commissioned report by retail guru Mary Portas warned that the UK's High Streets were under threat from online competition, and described some town centres as "dead".

She said it was too late to save every High Street but warned that casualties would continue to increase unless action was taken to tackle the "crisis".

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