Retail sales dip but underlying growth steady

Greater pressure coming from food stores where average prices rose 3.5%
Greater pressure coming from food stores where average prices rose 3.5%

UK retail sales have recorded their first year-on-year fall since 2013 as store prices increased by an average 3.6% on last year.

The 0.3% fall in sales volumes compared with a strong October last year, but is the biggest drop since March 2013, the the Office for National Statistics figures show.

The drop comes as households are faced with store prices increasing by an average 3.1% on this time last year, with the largest rise coming from food stores where average prices are up 3.5% - the largest year-on-year price increase since September 2013.

However figures for the three months to October, which smooth out monthly volatility, show the quantity bought increased by 0.9% from 0.7% in the three months to September.

The quantity bought last month increased by 0.3% compared with the month before, with second-hand stores such as charity shops, auction houses, antiques and fine art dealers providing the largest contribution to the growth.

Compared with a year earlier, however, sales volumes in the three months to October were just 1.1% higher than the year before, the weakest growth rate since May 2013.

Online sales values increased year-on-year by 10.7%, accounting for approximately 16.9% of all retail spending.

ONS statistician Kate Davies said: “We are continuing to see an underlying picture of steady growth in retail sales, although this October suffered in comparison with a very strong October in 2016.

“Growth month-on-month in October was particularly strong in the second-hand goods sector, which includes auction houses and antique dealers.”

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said: “After a strong September, October’s retail sales growth slowed, particularly in comparison to a strong October last year.

“Unseasonably warm weather and Storms Brian and Ophelia coinciding with half-term saw some shoppers temporarily stay away from the high street, impacting footfall and sales of non-food items - particularly new season clothing lines.

“We are optimistic about retailers’ prospects in the final two months of the year, as consumer sentiment remains resilient, and is particularly strong amongst younger shoppers.

“We do not expect the recent rise in interest rates to affect people’s shopping habits in the short term, and Black Friday sales followed by December Christmas shopping should be a welcome boost for UK retailers.”