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November 8, 2022

UK clothing retail sales slide in October as shoppers feel pinch

Non-food retail sales in the UK fell 1.2% in the three months to October, with clothing and footwear sales declining in particular according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

By Hannah Abdulla

The BRC’s chief executive Helen Dickinson has warned for many, Christmas will be more gloom than glitter as families focus on making ends meet with mortgage payment rises, and retail could be set for a bumpy ride ahead as a result.

  • Over the three months to October, non-food retail sales decreased by 1.2% on a total basis and 1.8% on a like-for-like basis. This is below the 12-month total average growth of 3.7%. For the month of October, non-food was in decline year-on-year.
  • Over the three months to October, in-store sales of non-food items increased 1.3% on a total basis and 0.4% on a like-for-like basis since October 2021. This is below the 12-month growth of 32.5%.
  • Online non-food sales decreased by 6.3% in October, against a decline of 8.0% in October 2021. This is below the three-month average decline of 4.8% and above the 12-month decline of 13.6%.
  • The non-food online penetration rate decreased to 39.9% in October from 42.0% at the same point last year.

Dicknson said: “As the cost of living for consumers continued to rise, retail sales slowed in October. With November Black Friday sales just around the corner, many people look to be delaying spending, particularly on bigger purchases. Clothing and footwear, which saw stronger sales this year, declined as the mild weather meant customers held back on buying winter outfits. Meanwhile, electric blankets, air fryers and other energy efficient appliances continued to fly off the shelves as people sought future cost savings.

“Christmas will come later than last year for many and may be more gloom than glitter as families focus on making ends meet, particularly as mortgage payments rise. Retailers hope the World Cup and Black Friday, will give sales a much-needed boost ahead of Christmas. However, with little sign of cost pressures easing, government action is needed to support households. Retailers face an additional government imposed GBP800m inflationary increase in their business rates bills next year so the government should freeze rates and reform the broken transitional relief system to alleviate cost pressures that are feeding through to higher prices at a time when people are least able to afford them.”

Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail, KPMG added: “Despite the price of goods being higher than 2021, retail sales during October grew by just over 1% in value year on year. This increase is being driven by inflationary pressures and does not tell the true picture of sales volumes dropping as consumers purchase fewer products per shop.

“Sales across almost every category both online and in-store fell year on year as consumers adjust to shrinking household incomes. Furniture, food and health products saved the day on the high street as consumers prepare for colder days at home. Online retailers saw sales decline in every category apart from furniture, as consumers head to the shops more frequently in search of bargains to manage daily expenditures.

“Retailers will be hedging their bets on a successful World Cup and Black Friday to boost sales during the crucial golden quarter. Given the economic headwinds, it is unlikely that the usual festive boost will be enough to counteract the ongoing issues that retailers face with rising costs, squeezed margins and falling demand. Many may feel that they have little choice but to reduce prices to hold onto customers but with their own inflationary pressures to contend with, bumper promotions before Christmas could damage already tight margins further. Whilst Christmas is by no means cancelled as consumers focus on one bright spot amongst the economic clouds, retailers are facing possibly their toughest festive season in a decade as shoppers look to trade down, search out bargains and purchase less to meet the economic challenges ahead.” 

Earlier today Primark confirmed it would be holding prices in the wake of its FY results, a move analysts say may hurt margins but will drive loyalty and sales.

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