Wettest November hits sales on the high street

UK retailers posted a surprise dip in sales in November, as the soggy but mild weather hit demand for winter clothing and falling food price inflation took the edge off grocers' figures.

Economists had been expecting sales volumes to rise between October and November, but they actually fell by 0.3 per cent, the Office of National Statistics revealed.

Richard Lowe, the head of retail and wholesale at Barclays, said: "The mild and wet weather in November seemed to dampen demand for winter clothing, although retailers of household goods continued to benefit from a growing appetite for big ticket items, ahead of the increase in VAT [to 17.5 per cent on 1 January 2010]."

The British Retail Consortium said the slowdown last month, which was the wettest November on record, was mainly due to food prices rising more slowly. Among general merchandise stores, non-specialist outlets suffered their biggest slump of 4.4 per cent since the ONS survey began in 1988. Textile, clothing and footwear shops declined by 1.8 per cent in November on the previous month.

But retail sales in November were actually up by 3.1 per cent when compared to the same month last year – in the midst of the banking crisis.

According to a separate CBI survey, a net balance of 13 per cent of retailers said that sales had risen over the year to 9 December. Retailers enjoyed a third consecutive month of sales growth in December, but they still forecast flat sales in 2010.

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