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Early Christmas shopping helps October retail sales tick up

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Retail sales rose 0.6% in October, following a fall of 1.5% in September as people started their Christmas shopping early to help them spread the cost of the festive season.

Retail sales monitor the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) by shoppers in the UK.

For October, the volume was estimated to have risen 0.6%, with increases seen in all of the main sectors apart from food stores which recorded a 1% decline.

Analysts said the uptick “reversed” the decline seen in the previous figures owing to the State Funeral of the Queen which saw many businesses close.

However, over the three months to October, sales volumes actually fell 2.4%, which according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), “continues the downward trend seen since summer 2021”.

It noted that non-food sales volumes rose 1.1% in the month, but they were still 1.7% below the pre-pandemic February 2020 levels.

Automotive fuel sales volumes rose 3.3% in October 2022, following a fall of 1.2% in September; but overall, they were 6.9% below their February 2020 levels.

Clothing sales rose 2.5% in the month, but department and household goods stores volumes also fell 0.3% and 4% respectively.

Online sales volumes rose 1.8% in the month following a fall of 2.5% in September. Sales volumes were 21.2% above their February 2020 levels and the ONS said the proportion of retail sales taking place online was 26.1% in October, which remains at a broadly consistent level since May 2022.

By sales value, the amount spent by shoppers was up 1.8% in the month, following a 1.4% fall in September. But again, the figure recorded a 0.7% fall in the quarter.

The ONS added that compared with the same period a year earlier, retail sales volumes fell 6.1% in the three months to October 2022, while sales values rose by 4.7%.

‘Concerns about the cost of living’

Danni Hewson, financial analyst at AJ Bell, said “any good news from retailers deserves to be celebrated right now”.

She said: “Perhaps people have started Christmas shopping a little early, hoping to spread the cost of buying presents over several pay days.

“But look a little deeper and you can see concern about the cost of living is pushing shoppers towards second-hand goods. Whilst clothing sales were up significantly in October, department store sales were suppressed and furniture and household goods sellers also struggled.

“Nice to haves, expensive luxuries and big-ticket purchases are all being pushed onto the back-burner as people consider how best to deal with their own personal circumstances, whether that means trying to bolster a savings cushion or just paying for the necessities.”

Hewson added that fuel sales were up as the changing seasons and darker nights may have put some people off walking, while falling prices at the pump “helped ease the guilt over that particular decision”.

She added: “It’s hardly surprising that food sales were down once again. Whereas a few months ago declining sales were being put down to the reopening of hospitality, rising inflation has now changed the picture dramatically. Once all the switches to value brands have been made and budgets are still under siege, the only option remaining for shoppers is to cut back on the amount they buy in their trolley and that’s a trend that supermarkets have been reporting.”

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