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UK retailers see weak sales growth in November despite Black Friday deals

Britain's Black Friday in London

By Suban Abdulla

LONDON (Reuters) -British retail sales growth remained sluggish in November despite Black Friday deals, as the ongoing cost-of-living squeeze prompted shoppers to rein in spending on non-essential items, the British Retail Consortium said on Tuesday.

The subdued data and a warning on the outlook from small fashion retailer Quiz added to concerns over discretionary spending in the key trading weeks to Christmas.

"We continue to believe that food, beverages and affordable treats will attract shoppers over bigger ticket discretionary in the 2023 festive period," Clive Black, head of consumer research at Shore Capital, said.

The BRC said spending increased 2.7% in annual terms last month, well below the 4.2% rise a year ago, and similar to the 2.5% increase in October.

The BRC data is not adjusted for inflation, so November's sales growth represents a fall in the volume of goods purchased.

"The cost-of-living crisis has taken its toll on Christmas spending for many households, and the continued economic conditions are testing consumer resilience," said Paul Martin, UK head of retail at accountants KPMG, who sponsor the data.

Tuesday's figures suggested consumers were opting for budget-friendly items. The food and drink and personal care categories drove sales growth as spending on expensive items such as jewellery fell.

Separate data from market researcher Kantar on Tuesday also showed more robust sales growth from supermarkets.

Britain's economy is still suffering from weak growth, but official data showed consumer price inflation slowed sharply in October to 4.6%, after hitting a 41-year high of over 11% one year earlier.

The Bank of England has held interest rates at 5.25% at its last two meetings following 14 back-to-back increases since December 2021. While financial markets are almost certain rates have peaked, BoE officials, who are closely monitoring upside risks to inflation, have stressed it is too early to cut rates.

Martin said weak sales could lead to some retailers collapsing in early 2024, especially in the case of purely online retailers who had seen the most prolonged fall in sales.

Online spending data from Adobe Analytics last week showed a 5.6% year-on-year increase during Black Friday and the immediate days after.

In the U.S., retailers such as Amazon.com and Foot Locker are signaling optimism for holiday season sales after stronger-than-expected figures during Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Separate figures from Barclays on Tuesday showed consumer spending on payment cards rose by 2.9% year-on-year in November, compared to 2.6% in October, helped by extended Black Friday sales.

Despite a raft of recent downbeat surveys, major retailers, including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Next, Primark and Marks &Spencer, have made confident comments about prospects in the Christmas trading period.

Barclays said consumers turned more optimistic about economic pressures, with concerns about inflation and the cost of food prices reaching the lowest level since December 2021.

However, Jack Meaning, chief UK economist at Barclays, said it was unclear if this would boost sales volumes next year.

"The key question for the UK is what happens after the holiday period. It will take more than a festive bounce to keep consumers spending in 2024," he said.

(Reporting by Suban Abdulla; additional reporting by James Davey; editing by David Milliken and Sharon Singleton)