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Early Christmas shopping helps UK retail sales to rebound, ONS data suggests

·1-min read
Shoppers at the Westfield mall in Stratford   (Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield)
Shoppers at the Westfield mall in Stratford (Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield)

Consumers starting Christmas shopping earlier than usual helped push up October retail sales in stores and online by 0.8%.

That was up from the prior month, and the Office for National Statistics said the figure was 5.8% ahead of pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

It marks the first monthly rise since April, when non-essential retailers could reopen from lockdowns.

Growth was led by spend in non-food shops, such as toy and sports equipment retailers, with sales volumes up 4.2%.

ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said: “After five months of no growth, retail sales picked up in October. Although sales overall are above pre-pandemic levels, it remains a mixed picture.”

Fitzner said clothing stores reached their highest level since the start of the pandemic, up 6.2% over the month with “some retailers suggesting that early Christmas shopping helped to bolster trade”.

However fuel sales fell sharply as they returned to more typical levels seen before the petrol shortage crisis. In addition, food and online sales decreased, although they are above pre-pandemic levels.

The ONS data will be welcomed by retail businesses following a flat September,when some shoppers limited trips out to save petrol, and spend in non-food shops was weak.

Some retailers have recently reported seeing customers buying products early for the festive period. For some shoppers that will be to beat any shortages due to supply chain problems, and in anticipation of bigger gatherings compared with smaller dinners during the pandemic.

Aled Patchett, head of retail and consumer goods at Lloyds Bank, said: “October’s return to form – boosted in part by Halloween sales – suggests that inflation and the squeeze on household budgets have yet to curtail spending.”

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