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UK retail sales stabilise ahead of key Christmas trading

The CBI’s monthly survey of British retailers found sales were ‘broadly unchanged’ in November after six months of falling demand.

Shoppers outside Bristol’s Cabot Circus shopping mall. New figures from the CBI show that retail sales are close to returning to growth after an improvement in November (Ben Birchall/PA)
Shoppers outside Bristol’s Cabot Circus shopping mall. New figures from the CBI show that retail sales are close to returning to growth after an improvement in November (Ben Birchall/PA)

By Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter

The downturn in the UK retail sector has significantly slowed down and shops could see sales growth return next month, according to new figures.

The CBI’s monthly survey of British retailers has found that sales were “broadly unchanged” in November, after six months of falling demand.

However, the industry was still in decline, with 41% of retailers reporting a decline in sales while 38% of respondents saw a rise, giving a balance of -3 for the month against the same period last year.

Nevertheless, this was the highest performance in seven months as the run-up to Christmas appeared to improve the situation for high street retailers.

Sales are also predicted to continue to improve, with the CBI saying it expects a return to growth in December.

Retailers said they expect sales volumes to increase for the year to December, with 44% expecting to see a rise in sales and just 23% predicting a decline.

The figures were less positive for online retailers, with online sales growing at the slowest pace since June, while wholesale sales fell at the sharpest rate in more than seven years.

Suppliers also had less to cheer about as they saw the number of new orders fall for the seventh consecutive month in annual terms.

Anna Leach, deputy chief economist at the CBI, said: “Retailers are entering the festive season with a bit of hope that sales will head up, with the strongest expectations in half a year.

“Actual sales have also stabilised and have nudged above average for the time of year and employment has stopped falling after three years of decline.

“But Brexit uncertainty continues to weigh on investment plans for the year ahead which remain weak.”

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