UK retail sales growth slows as November lockdown hits non-food sales

British retail sales growth slowed in November when non-essential stores shut as part of a four-week lockdown in England, but online sales were able to fill more of the gap than in the first lockdown in March, industry data showed on Tuesday.

The British Retail Consortium said year-on-year total retail sales growth slowed to 0.9% in November from 4.9% in October, the weakest spending growth since a 5.9% fall in May.

A measure of like-for-like sales – which includes online retail and stores that were able to remain open – rose by 7.7% compared with a year earlier, the biggest gain since June.

“Some retailers were able offset a proportion of lost sales through greater online and click-and-collect sales, ensuring they could still serve their customers,” Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said.

For others, the coronavirus has proved the final straw. Last week 242-year-old department store chain Debenhams said it would close if it could not find a new owner and Arcadia, which operates many of Britain’s best-known high street clothing chains, entered administration.

Britain’s economy shrank by a record 20% during the three months to June, which covered most of the first lockdown, but the Bank of England expects a much smaller 2% decline during the final three months of 2020 in response to more recent closures.

Non-essential shops and most hospitality and entertainment venues had to close to the public in England between Nov. 5 and Dec. 2, and there were similar restrictions elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The BRC data covered Nov. 1 to Nov. 28.

Barclaycard, which processes around half of British credit and debit card payments, said consumer spending between Oct. 24 and Nov. 20 was 1.9% lower than a year earlier.

The fall in spending masks big differences between sectors.

Spending at supermarkets was up 24%, and online food shopping was 98% higher than a year earlier, while spending in restaurants and pubs was less than half year-ago levels.

Department stores and clothing retailers, many of whom have struggled to sell online, saw drops in spending of 18% and 13% respectively, Barclaycard said.

“The big question now is whether Brits will flock to the high street for Christmas shopping after the November lockdown, providing a much-needed boost in December,” Barclaycard executive Raheel Ahmed said.