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Retail sales pick up as shoppers hit the high street

Written by: Emma Lunn
Retail sales volumes rose by 1.4% in November 2021 and were 7.2% higher than their pre-coronavirus (Covid-19) February 2020 levels, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Official figures show that non-food stores sales volumes rose by 2% in November 2021. This growth was driven by clothing stores (2.9%) and other non-food stores (2.8%) such as computer stores, toy stores and jewellery stores. Retailers noted strong trading related to Black Friday and in the lead up to Christmas.

The ONS found that clothing stores sales volumes in November 2021 were above pre-coronavirus levels for the first time, at 3.2% above their level in February 2020.

Fuel sales volumes rose by 3.7% in November 2021 following some disruption to petrol and diesel supplies in the previous two months, but volumes were 1.9% below their February 2020 levels.

The proportion of retail sales online fell to 26.9% in November 2021, its lowest proportion since March 2020 (22.6%) and a continuation of a falling trend since its peak in February 2021 (36.8%).

Emma-Lou Montgomery, associate director at Fidelity International, said: “While shoppers may have been ticking off their Christmas lists early, taking advantage of Black Friday and stocking the freezer full of pigs in blankets, festive cheer is still in short supply for retailers.

“The good news is that retail sales were up 1.4% in November, building on the gains made in October and driven by clothing, jewellery and tech. However, the lead up to the big day looks to be far from the Christmas bonanza high-street retailers had their hopes pinned on. Inflation is up at a 10-year high and cutting into household budgets, footfall is on the decline as Plan B takes effect and the rates of Omicron climb, and having enough workers to keep the tills ringing is a mounting challenge. And it’s not just the high street retailers feeling the effects. Online sales were down again in November and retailers, including even those with an online-only presence like Boohoo, are already scaling back sales guidance for the new year.

Michael Oszmann, founder of online marketplace Buy Britain, said: “People have stepped up and are buying from local retailers. We have had a great month with Christmas sales outstripping our expectations. Our online marketplace has experienced more than 1000% sales growth this year, and so far, our December numbers have already overtaken November.

“This demonstrates that if the product and price are right, people are very happy and willing to support local businesses. There are, of course, challenges out there. Logistics are tough at the moment with all types of delivery service struggling to keep up with the pace. And many of our sellers who would like to deliver to Europe, and see demand from there, simply can’t make it work right now because of the level of cost and bureaucracy. Add Omicron into the mix and there are a lot of red flags ahead.”

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