Retail Sales Monitor

Further Catch-up in October but Polarised Sales

  • Anne Alexandre avatar
    Anne Alexandre RSM Manager | BRC
  • James Hardiman avatar
    James Hardiman Analyst | BRC

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, BRC: 

“October saw another month of strong sales growth, with food, gifts and loungewear high on peoples’ shopping lists. Tightening restrictions across the United Kingdom and speculation towards the end of the month of an England-wide lockdown prompted customers to stock up on home comforts and food supplies. The disparity between online and in-store non-food sales widened, with the highest online penetration rate since June. Non-food stores once again experienced double-digit decline due to low footfall as more office workers returned to home working.

“During an incredibly challenging year for the industry, many retailers had finally thought that they were finding their footing. The new lockdown in England will now throw away this progress as we enter the crucial Christmas trading period and we estimate that £2bn of sales per week will be lost this month. It is therefore vital that retailers are able to trade from 3rd December and we are asking government to urgently provide clarity about the criteria for reopening and to ensure that affected businesses are supported in the coming months.”

Don Williams, Retail Partner, KPMG: 

“This is an impressive performance by retailers, especially given the tighter household restrictions in October, but testing times lie ahead.

“The gap between winners and losers is stark with home-related items, like furniture and technology, putting in a strong performance whilst the improvement in fashion sales was short lived. Online sales remain high and are set to grow further during Black Friday and lockdown. Not all retailers are in a position to take advantage of this shift in customer behaviour, which has been accelerated by circumstance and for many is now both choice and habit.

“The important ‘golden quarter’ is likely to be unrecognisable this year, with some retailers losing a month’s worth of trading opportunity.  Capacity is also likely to be a significant challenge over the coming months as there is a limit to online delivery availability and social distancing has reduced the numbers of customers that can safely shop in store at any one time. In order to survive, retailers must give serious thought to how consumers will engage in the run-up to Christmas.

“Some retailers will thrive in the new environment, others will find it bleak. The locked-in step-up in online activity will undoubtedly lead to further investments in digital capability and partnerships. Digital strategies have never been more vital, but those strategies must be cost efficient too.”

Food & Drink sector performance, Susan Barratt, CEO, IGD: 

“Food and grocery sales continued to perform strongly in October, albeit marginally slower than in September. There was a clear uptick in sales at end of October with retailers benefiting from Halloween falling on a Saturday and shoppers reacting to the impending national lockdown with more than half of shoppers (55%) claiming to have stockpiled over the Halloween weekend. The closure of many out-of-home channels will almost certainly drive additional sales in retail in November.

“A second wave of COVID-19, the three-tier lockdown system in England, rising unemployment and uncertainty about EU exit have all contributed to IGD’s Shopper Confidence Index declining for the second month in a row, hitting its lowest level since May. Confidence is particularly low among lower affluence groups and shoppers in Wales and the North West. The new national lockdown in England will only impact shopper confidence further so expect savvy shopping tactics to intensify in the run up to Christmas.”

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