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Will a Black November lead into a Bleak December?


Black Friday failed to be the panacea retailers were hoping for, as it emerges that November saw a disappointing slump in retail sales. 

The British Retail Consortium has released statistics showing that, despite record breaking online sales over the Black Friday weekend, November experienced a decline overall.  

As the BRC expected, customers throughout the month held out on making big purchases in anticipation of Black Friday. Indeed, figures from Barclaycard showed a notable slowdown in the first three weeks of November, as well as a decrease in the number of purchases made across all categories. The most notable slowdowns were in categories that were most expected to offer Black Friday discounts, including electronics and furniture. 

David McCorquodale, Head of Retail at KPMG, compared November to a game of ‘chicken’, as customers waited for discounts and retailers attempted to offer better prices than their competitors. 

“November’s relatively flat sales figures are a reality check for the retail sector with consumers holding off for a Black Friday bargain pitted against retailers determined to hold onto their hard-earned margins,” he said. 

BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said that electrical appliances, furniture and home-categories were the month’s strongest, though they were not immune to the slowdown. She also noted that the astounding growth in online sales were impacting traditional pre-Christmas sales parameters, and as a result “this build-up to Christmas is one of the hardest to read in years.” 

Others were more optimistic about their outlook for December, with Springboard Marketing and Insights Director Diane Wehrle reminding us that “most last-order dates for online Christmas shopping occur on 18 and 19 December” and predicting that “last minute Christmas buying” would lead to the traditional “spike” in footfall. 

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight added another positive prediction, saying that “consumer’s improved purchasing power” could still bring about “a decent Christmas for retailers.” 

However, Dickinson added that the recent recovery in people’s wages would not ensure a break in habits of frugal Christmas spending. 

“The conversion of people’s higher disposable income into retail sales shouldn’t be taken for granted,” she warned. 

Published on Wednesday 09 December by Philip Gallagher

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