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‘Groundhog Day’ as November lockdown retail sales fell 3.8%

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Retail sales volumes fell 3.8% in November as the sector largely stopped trading amid the second national lockdown, official figures reveal.

Despite the fall from the previous month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS), noted that overall, sales remain above their pre-pandemic levels.

However, clothing store sales continued to suffer, experiencing a sharp 19% fall compared to the previous month.

Fuel sales were also largely impacted by the restrictions, declining 16.6%. But hardest hit were the carpet and floor covering retailers and books and newspapers, which reported the largest monthly fall of 46.1% and 40.3% respectively in November.

But as witnessed in the first lockdown, food stores and household goods stores saw an increase in sales – 3.1% and 1.6% respectively. They were the only sectors to show growth in the monthly volume of sales.

The year-on-year growth rate in the volume of retail sales increased 2.4%, suggesting that Brits brought forward their Christmas spending.

And online spending continued its upward trend, accounting for 31.4% of total retailing compared with 28.6% in October, with an overall growth of 74.7% in the value of sales when compared to November 2019.

‘Virtual tills are ringing but new clothes are out of fashion’

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The November lockdowns were like Groundhog Day for non-essential retailers. Those without an online presence were simply forced to close their doors again for weeks and watch the online competition and the supermarket sector clean up. But those with advanced digital platforms kept the virtual tills ringing as consumers shopped from their sofas, helping recoup bricks and mortar losses.

“The volume of goods purchased via online platforms remained 42% higher than in February, before the coronavirus crisis hit. Shoppers browsing on screen also appeared to bring forward their Christmas present purchases with the quantity of goods bought in November rising by 2.4% compared to last year.

“With the party season cancelled and little need to refresh wardrobes, it was a nightmare before Christmas for clothing retailers with sales down 19% compared to October. Despite extensive Black Friday promotions online, buying new clothes stayed out of fashion. Shopping by screen is clearly no substitute to touching fabrics and trying on clothes in store for many fashion-conscious consumers.”

Streeter added the lockdowns have wiped millions off in-store sales while the working from home revolution means footfall is still depressed in many town and city centres.

“The pain is not likely to end any time soon. Jobs support programmes, business rates relief and government loan schemes might have helped some businesses through the crisis, but once that support comes to an end, we may well see more high street casualties.

“The change in consumer behaviour brought about by the pandemic is likely to be long lasting. Customers online and in-store are demanding a high level of convenience, consistency and safety. From online shopping and click and collect, to contactless payments and curb side pick-ups, retailers will need to adapt quickly to these trends to thrive.”

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