Business development · 8 December 2015

UK retail sales down in November despite Black Friday boost

Online retail sales increased but high street shops were disapointed
Online retail sales increased but high street shops were disapointed

Total UK retail sales decreased slightly in November, when 0.4 per cent less was spent than last year – with sales through websites and apps increasing, but physical stores less busy.

New figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed that online sales of non-food products were up almost 12 per cent on 2014 while volumes of all but two categories of products fell on the high street. Only in-store purchases of home furnishings and furniture grew.

“Online was an attractive place for shoppers this November with the highest penetration rate on record at 22 per cent, edging closer to people spending £1 in every £4 online across non-food categories,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC.

The impact of Black Friday on spending patterns is also evident in the statistics – which revealed sales were some 50 per cent higher in the last week of the month than at the beginning of November.

“November’s relatively flat sales figures are a reality check for the retail sector with consumers holding off for a Black Friday bargain pitted against retailers determined to hold onto their hard-earned margins,” said David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG.

He added: “The result was that, despite the hype around Black Friday, there was minimal loosening of the family purse strings compared to last year and retailers, facing significant cost increases next year, will be striving to wean UK shoppers off the discounting drug.”

But many small retailers used alternative strategies to increase sales at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season – with independent booksellers instead holding “Civilised Saturday” events the next day, complete with prosecco and jazz music.

Shops that took part told The Bookseller that it allowed them to increase customers without having to offer discounts. Independent bookshop owner Sheila O’Reilly, said that her firms’ sales increased by six per cent compared to the same saturday of the previous year.

And while figures from the UK on the impact of Small Business Saturday on 5 December are yet to be unveiled, the success of the US event – held one week earlier – should give British small retailers cause for optimism.

Customer numbers were almost one tenth higher – while stores participating in the event saw revenue increase by 14 per cent.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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