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UK Black Friday boosts sales, but growth rate falls back

UK retail sales slowed from October's 14-year high last month as fuel prices increased at the fastest rate since 2011. Black Friday boosted sales, particularly of electronics, but the overall rate of growth slowed to 5.9% year-on-year from October's 7.2%, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show.

Fuel sales dropped to their lowest levels in two years after the price rises.

The figures show that the measure of inflation used in calculating retail sales turned positive for the first time since June 2014, with the largest contribution to the rise coming from the forecourts.

Earlier this week ONS said inflation reached a two-year high last month, squeezing families with higher prices for clothing, food and vehicle fuel.

Annual sales growth, excluding fuel, slowed slightly less than economists had predicted, dropping to 6.6% from 7.5%.

ONS senior statistician Kate Davies said: "Retailers saw continued growth in the run-up to Christmas. Department stores and household goods stores had a particularly strong month, especially in sales of electronic goods, boosted by Black Friday deals.

"Annual growth in fuel sales, however, was at its lowest level for almost two years, as prices increased at the fastest rate since 2011."

Retail sales volumes were up just 0.2%, compared with 1.8% in October.

And clothing sales dropping by 1.4% after strong growth the previous month when the weather became colder.

The amount spent online increased by 24.9% compared with November last year, and by 3% compared with October 2016.

Speaking about the latest figures, Graeme MacLaughlin, relationship director of Barclays in Northern Ireland, said: "The retail industry delivered the goods again in November. As much as we would like to assert what this means for Christmas trading overall, we have to wait to see the year-end numbers to draw firmer conclusions. However, as our recent research showed, retailers were optimistic entering the Christmas period and are demonstrating a more sophisticated approach to Black Friday, with an increasing number resisting the phenomenon altogether.

"Coupled with some retailers opting for shallower reductions over a longer period may mean that this year many have avoided the damaging trend of simply shifting Christmas sales forward to November at lower margins, which makes the headline numbers for November all the more impressive."

The latest figures for Northern Ireland show shoppers were out in force during November, with footfall up 3.5%.

Mr MacLaughlin said the first UK average price increase in more than two years is a "notable development".

"But we need to take care when analysing what this means for the industry, as fuel was a major contributor and assessing price moves during a month disrupted by Black Friday requires some caution," he argued.

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