Brief Brexit respite for shoppers as focus turns to Christmas, index finds

Shoppers appeared to temporarily brush Brexit concerns to one side in November as the focus shifted to finding Christmas bargains, according to an index.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG retail sales monitor said growth appeared stronger than in previous months amid signs that consumers have put concerns about political uncertainty aside for now to concentrate on the festive season.

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.

When figures were adjusted to take account of this year’s Black Friday having fallen on November 29, UK retail sales actually increased 0.9% on a total basis, and were up by 0.4% on a like-for-like basis, the index found.

The adjustments were made by excluding Black Friday week from the 2018 comparison.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive, British Retail Consortium, said: “Once the figures are adjusted to take account of the timing of Black Friday, growth appears stronger in November than in previous months.

“Shoppers appeared ready to take advantage of the great bargains available, both online and on the high street.

“Electronics and clothes both benefited from big discounts, with the recent cold snap adding further urgency to purchases of winter-wear.

“Furthermore, as the spectre of a no-deal Brexit has been pushed back to after Christmas, consumers were more prepared to open their wallets to do a little extra festive spending.”

She said the next government must be ready to “hit the ground running” on December 13.

Ms Dickinson said: “If the next Government wishes to see retail spending remain healthy in 2020 it is essential they clarify our future relationship with the EU as soon as possible.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail, KPMG, said: “At first glance, November’s decline in like-for-like retail sales of 4.9% will leave retailers reaching for the smelling salts, but context is key.

“If adjusted for the later timing of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, sales are more likely to have increased by a more palatable 0.4% like-for-like.

“Over the course of November, consumers will have held off making purchases in anticipation of discounts to come, despite many retailers spreading out promotions across several days, if not weeks.

“That said, consumers will also have put Brexit and political uncertainty to one side temporarily, focusing on promotions and the upcoming festivities instead.”

The findings were released as a separate report from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, indicated shoppers are keen to seek out a good deal this Christmas.

Barclaycard said spending on non-essentials was up 1.3% annually.

Spending in discount stores was up by 6.9% annually – but department stores saw a sharp 5.9% spending fall, it said.

Many people also cosied up with their favourite TV shows as temperatures fell.

Barclaycard said that digital content and subscriptions continued to show strong growth, up by 14.6% – which it said is a marker of the growing popularity of services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The latest season of big budget drama The Crown starring Olivia Colman was recently released on streaming giant Netflix.

Esme Harwood, director at Barclaycard, said: “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.”