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UK retail sales unexpectedly jump in November

Retail sales unexpectedly jumped in November, official data showed on Friday, boosted by strong demand for clothing and a bumper Black Friday.
The Office for National Statistics said retail sales volumes rose by 1.4% in November, following growth of 1.1% in October, which was revised up from 0.8%. The November increase was above consensus, with most analysts looking for growth closer to 0.8%.

Year-on-year sales growth strengthened to 4.7%, compared to a 1.5% decline in October, also above consensus, for 4.2%.

Retail sales are now 7.2% higher than February 2020 levels.

Driving the improvement was stronger clothing sales, which rose 2.9% and beat pre-Covid levels for the first time; volumes were 3.2% higher than their February 2020 level.

Overall, non-food sales volumes, which include computer, toy and jewellery stores, rose by 2.0%, with retailers noting strong Black Friday trading. Food store sales volumes fell 0.2% in November, although they remain 3.2% above February 2020 levels.

Consumers also continued to return to shopping in-store, with the proportion of retail sales online falling to 26.9%, the lowest proportion since the first lockdown in March 2020.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “It is clear that plenty of customers used the Black Friday sales as an opportunity to snap up bargains ahead of Christmas.

“While traditional sales in TV and other electronics could be found, there has been a clear expansion in clothing and footwear in Black Friday discounts, boosting sales growth in these areas. This was bolstered by the cold weather during November.”

Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “The high level of retail sales likely reflects consumers purchasing Christmas presents earlier than usual, due to warnings about product availability.

“Looking ahead, retailers appear to be relatively unaffected by Omicron. Footfall in the week ending 11 December was only 1% lower than the previous week, according to Springboard. Indeed, retail sales might even pick up in January if households avoid services venues due to concerns about catching Omicron. Houses also have amassed excess savings equal to nearly 9% of GDP.”

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