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Retail sales return to growth as shoppers start Christmas spending early

·3-min read
The ONS has released the latest retail sales figures (JaneBarlow/PA (PA Wire)
The ONS has released the latest retail sales figures (JaneBarlow/PA (PA Wire)

Shoppers started Christmas shopping early as sales at clothes stores came within touching distance of pre-pandemic levels but online sales fell to lows not seen since the start of the pandemic, according to official statistics.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said it helped push overall sales volumes up in October by 0.8% – ending a five-month run of falling or flat volumes.

Last month’s sales fall of 0.2% between September and August was revised up to 0%.

Fuel sales fell back sharply as panic buying subsided in October, the ONS said (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)
Fuel sales fell back sharply as panic buying subsided in October, the ONS said (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

Officials said non-food stores were the only main retail sector to see a rise in sales volumes in the last month, with second-hand stores, toy stores, sports equipment stores and clothes stores all up.

Clothes stores saw sales volumes up 6.2%, with retailers suggesting early Christmas trading had boosted sales, with some customers keen to not miss out due to supply chain shortages hitting the industry.

This meant clothes stores are now just 0.5% below pre-pandemic levels recorded in February 2020, the ONS added.

Fuel sales fell back sharply last month by 6.4% as they returned to more typical levels after the panic buying of September saw forecourts run dry.

Food sales volumes fell by 0.3% but remain above pre-pandemic levels by 3.4%.

Online sales dropped significantly to account for 27.3% of overall sales in October.

This meant the proportion of online sales was at its lowest level since March 2020 – although this remains well above the pre-pandemic level of 19.7% recorded in February 2020.

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.

“Clothing, department stores and toy shop sales reported a boost this month, with clothing stores reaching their highest level since the start of the pandemic, with some retailers suggesting that early Christmas shopping helped to bolster trade.

“Fuel sales fell sharply on the month, as they returned to more typical levels following September’s increase. Food and online sales also fell, although they remain above pre-pandemic levels.”

But Helen Dickinson chief executive of the British Retail Consortium warned: “While retailers are putting in a gargantuan effort to ensure that essential food and gifts are ready for Christmas, they continue to be dogged by ongoing challenges and supply chain problems.

Labour shortages throughout the supply chains – from farms to distribution – are pushing up costs and creating some gaps on the shelves.

“Nonetheless, retailers are prioritising Christmas essentials, and many have laid out their festive offerings a little earlier to ensure everyone has time to buy treats and decorations before the big day.”

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