November retail sales surpass expectations due to Black Friday

Discounting hits retailers at record level in lead-up to Christmas

UK retail sales surpassed expectations in November after several months of decline and despite warnings from retailers that it was a horrid month.

The level of retail sales in November increased by 1.4 per cent compared to October, according to the latest monthly data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Economists initially predicted a poor 0.3 per cent sales increase following two months of steady decline in retail.

However, ONS revealed that Black Friday was key to increasing sales throughout November.

Meanwhile, for the first time ever, online sales were shown to now account for more than 20 per cent of total retail sales.

It comes after various retailers issued lacklustre trading updates throughout November.

Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley grabbed headlines when he said the month had been the “worst on record” and warned retailers that they could be “smashed to pieces” by poor trading.

Deloitte head of retail Ian Geddes said: “November sales were driven by what is clearly a shift to online, November was a better-than-expected month for the UK retail sector.

“Significantly, a digital milestone has been met for UK retail. For the first time, more than a fifth of all retailing in November was conducted online: 21.5 per cent.

“Boosted by promotional activity in the run up to Black Friday, average weekly online spending in November was £1.8 billion, a whopping 13.1 per cent increase from November 2017.

“This figure is all the more impressive when considering that sales from the day after Black Friday onwards, including Cyber Monday, were not included.

“How December’s retail sales will fare remains to be seen. With less than a week to go until Christmas, including what will be a crucial weekend for last-minute shopping, retailers have everything to play for.

“The pressure to shift unwanted stock will make Boxing Day the biggest day of the year for UK retail, and capitalising on this will be key. We are expecting average discounting of at least 52 per cent off from Boxing Day.”

EY Item Club chief economic advisor Howard Archer said: “Indeed, there are bound to

be suspicions about the November data given that the ONS has acknowledged that it is not easy to seasonally-adjust for Black Friday data given the changing nature of promotions.

“Furthermore, the underlying performance of retail sales still looks lacklustre with volumes up a modest 0.4 per cent in the three months to November compared to the three months to August.”

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