'Bleak winter ahead' despite uptick in UK retail sales as Xmas countdown begins

UK retail sales recovered slightly last month as the countdown to Christmas began but they remain below pre-pandemic levels, official figures reveal.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes edged up 0.6 per cent in October, following a 1.5 per cent drop in September, which had been affected by closures linked to the Queen’s funeral. It was marginally higher than analysts had predicted, with a consensus compiled by Pantheon Macroeconomics having pointed towards a 0.4 per cent rise.

The latest figures reveal sales improved last month in most categories, except for food retail. Food store sales dipped 1 per cent in October as they continued a downward trajectory since last year. In recent months, supermarkets highlighted that they are seeing a decline in volumes sold because of increased cost of living and food prices, the ONS noted.

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Jacqui Baker, partner and head of retail at audit, tax and consulting firm RSM UK, said: “Although there was an uptick in retail sales last month, driven by clothing up 2.5 per cent, it’s hard to ignore what’s likely to be a bleak winter ahead. Consumers are looking at how they can tackle the fallout from the cost-of-living crisis in their spending decisions; even essential spend on food was down 1 per cent, with shopping baskets getting smaller as inflation takes a hold.”

The outlook for the UK retail sector heading into the crucial festive trading period is looking stormy. Picture: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire
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Earlier this week, the Scottish Retail Consortium said total sales fell 0.3 per cent last month, compared with October 2021 and when adjusted for the effects of spiralling inflation. Non-food sales were hit the hardest as shoppers cut back on discretionary spending.

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