UK retail sales up 1%, as Black Friday masks dramatic year-on-year drop

The increasingly popular ‘Black Friday’ shopping event, imported from the US, helped lift sales on British high streets in November by 1%, masking a year-on-year drop in total sales of 4.4%

According to the closely-watched British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG retail sales monitor, Black Friday falling on November 29 this year meant that UK retail sales actually increased 0.9% on a total basis.

Sales were up by 0.4% on a like-for-like basis, when figures were adjusted to take the event into account.

Total retail sales were down by 4.4% year-on-year between October 27 and November 23, according to the retail sales monitor.

But the report said this figure was distorted by the late timing of Black Friday this year.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said UK consumers had been more prepared to open their wallets “for a little extra festive spending, as the spectre of a no-deal Brexit has been pushed back to after Christmas.”

But separately, Barclaycard said consumers were cautious ahead of Christmas, with 36% planning to spend less than usual for the holiday this year.

According to the card payments giant, which oversees nearly half of the UK’s card transactions, 42% of the respondents that cut back on spending were looking to spend less money overall.According to its latest data spending on essentials was completely flat – 0% – as fuel spending dropped by 3.1% and supermarkets rose marginally by 1%.

It said spending on non-essentials was up 1.3%, presenting a “mixed picture” for retailers.

Discount stores took advantage of shoppers’ quest for value for money, seeing 6.9% growth, while department stores saw a sharp drop of 5.9%, and electronics and clothing retailers fell by 5% and 3.3% respectively, Barclaycard said.

Esme Harwood, Director at Barclaycard, said: “With a backdrop of political uncertainty, consumer confidence has remained low this month – particularly amongst younger consumers – as Brits focus on discount shopping in a bid to tighten their purse strings this Christmas.

“Throughout 2019 we have seen the nation managing their budgets by seeking greater value for money, and this trend looks set to continue in December.

“As we head into the busy shopping season, retailers will no doubt be crossing their fingers for consumer confidence to rise enough to deliver some Christmas cheer”.

Sales for providers for nights out and nights were also a mixed bag in November, but any sales cheer in the month failed to extend to the restaurant sector.

Consumer spending in bars, pubs and clubs saw 8.7% growth as Brits enjoyed nights out with friends and family, but eateries declined by 5.2%.

Takeaways and fast food surged 11.4% during a colder and darker month as diners opted for food delivery apps over going out to eat.

In direct correspondence, digital content and subscriptions showed strong growth up 14.6%, as video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime continuing to rise in popularity.

But entertainment spending overall contracted by 13%, driven by a downturn in spending on shows and concerts, possibly in part due to the ongoing impact of ticket resale legislation, Barclaycard said.