Early Christmas shopping lifts UK retail sales close to pre-pandemic level

High street enjoys partial recovery but retailers warn supply chain woes will continue

Ben Chapman
Friday 19 November 2021 13:18
<p>Clothing sales jumped 6.2 per cent in October and were just 0.5 per cent down on their pre-pandemic level </p>

Clothing sales jumped 6.2 per cent in October and were just 0.5 per cent down on their pre-pandemic level

Early Christmas shopping helped British retail sales recover to just below their pre-pandemic level, despite widespread disruption to supplies, official data shows.

Overall retail sales rose 0.8 per cent between September and October with fashion retailers enjoying a particularly big bounce.

Clothing store sales jumped 6.2 per cent in October and were just 0.5 per cent down on their peak before the first Covid lockdown.

Toy shops also saw a boost to sales, indicating that shoppers have been buying Christmas gifts early to avoid disappointment after suppliers warned of gaps in stock and delays shipping goods from Asia.

Retail bosses welcomed the latest signs of recovery but said backlogs in supply chains and a shortage of labour would continue to cause problems.

While the high street enjoyed a boost, online shopping slipped back to a level not seen since the early days of the pandemic.

Web sales made up 27.3 per cent of total retail transactions – the lowest since March 2020 but still substantially higher than the he 19.7 per cent recorded in February 2020. Online sellers will be expecting a boost from the Black Friday sales, which hit their peak next week.

Fuel sales dropped 6.4 per cent in the month as a panic over fuel supplies subsided and drivers relied on petrol and diesel they had stocked up in September.

Groceries sales were down 0.3 per cent but remained 3.4 per cent higher than pre-Covid levels.

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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