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By Ralph Robinson, Head of Retail & Consumer Markets, BJSS
It’s been 10 months since I’ve had an upbeat ONS retail update to share, but today I’m starting with some good news. Value-oriented brands like B&M, Lidl, and ASDA all announced positive quarterly sales results last month, fashion retailers like H&M and Mango took advantage of low high street rents to open new stores, and overall retail sales value grew by 4.8% YoY, with volumes up 0.6% versus September. But sadly, that’s about as much festive cheer as I can scrape from the barrel.
In fact, after a hard-hitting budget yesterday, this morning’s ONS results are unlikely to bring the Christmas joy retailers were hoping for. Having already been hit with an average rate hike of 27% on depot costs, e-commerce retailers awoke today to learn that their subsector’s volumes fell by 7.7% YoY in October. The story wasn’t much rosier for the overall industry, which stood at -6.1% YoY. Despite deep and early targeted price cuts across most retailers in October, the usually reliable combo of slashing prices and highly-visible adverts simply hasn’t translated into volume at the tills this time.
What sets this round of results apart, however, is that all retail sectors have experienced a year-on-year decline, across both online and physical retail, with grocery and household goods the worst hit subsectors. These bleak results are backed up by Barclaycard’s latest consumer confidence survey, which reveals that almost half (48%) of Brits are planning to cut down on Christmas purchases to save money this year. So it's not surprising that retailers are cutting particularly deep for Black Friday to instill some form of confidence in board rooms that the ‘golden quarter’ will indeed pick up.
On the flip side, as a consumer there are some amazing deals out there. Most notably, ASOS has up to 80% off everything, whilst Amazon, Boohoo, The Perfume Shop, and even the much lauded Gymshark are offering between 50-60% discounts in a bid to be noticed above the heavy promotional noise.
Only time will tell whether November’s results will provide some more optimism for the industry, and whether these deep discounts for “Black Friday and beyond” (as many retailers are putting it), will have resulted in shoppers voting with their wallets. Retailers are clearly betting big on a bumper Black Friday in November, hoping to turn these results around for a positive reset ahead of the new year.