Retail sales return to growth as Christmas starts early

Shoppers face the biggest price rises in more than 30 years this Christmas after fears of widespread shortages sent people rushing to the shops this November.
The warnings come after a survey of retailers published by the CBI.
// Early Christmas shopping has helped push sales up by 0.8% throughout October
// Clothes shopping led the boost as consumers returned to the high street

Retail sales have seen a return to growth throughout October as consumers began preparing for Christmas, according to The Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Consumers have started their Christmas shopping early, boosting sales amid fears of missing out due to possible supply chain shortages.

This early start to Christmas trading has helped push overall sales volumes up in October by 0.8% – ending a five-month run of falling or flat volumes.

Last month’s sales fall of 0.2% between September and August was revised up to 0%.

The report revealed that non-food stores were the only retail sector to see a rise in sales volumes in the last month, with second-hand stores, toy stores, sports equipment stores and clothes stores all up.

Sales volumes at clothes stores were up 6.2%, just 0.5% below pre-pandemic levels recorded in February 2020.

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Meanwhile, online sales fell to lows not seen since the start of the pandemic, according to official statistics – accounting for 27.3% of overall sales in October.

This meant the proportion of online sales was at its lowest level since March 2020 – although this remains well above the pre-pandemic level of 19.7% recorded in February 2020.

ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said: “After five months of no growth, retail sales picked up in October. Although sales overall are above pre-pandemic levels, it remains a mixed picture.

“Clothing, department stores and toy shop sales reported a boost this month, with clothing stores reaching their highest level since the start of the pandemic, with some retailers suggesting that early Christmas shopping helped to bolster trade.

“Fuel sales fell sharply on the month, as they returned to more typical levels following September’s increase. Food and online sales also fell, although they remain above pre-pandemic levels.”

But Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, warned: “While retailers are putting in a gargantuan effort to ensure that essential food and gifts are ready for Christmas, they continue to be dogged by ongoing challenges and supply chain problems.

“Labour shortages throughout the supply chains – from farms to distribution – are pushing up costs and creating some gaps on the shelves.

“Nonetheless, retailers are prioritising Christmas essentials, and many have laid out their festive offerings a little earlier to ensure everyone has time to buy treats and decorations before the big day.”

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