UK to see the 'most digital Christmas ever' after explosion in online sales

Sales have grown for the sixth consecutive month in the UK amid an early festive rush, official figures have revealed, even as restrictions were tightened again in many areas.

Sales for October were 5.8 per cent higher than the same month last year as retailers said 'consumers had started Christmas shopping earlier this year'. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Sales for October were 5.8 per cent higher than the same month last year as retailers said 'consumers had started Christmas shopping earlier this year'. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

UK retail sales volumes in October were 1.2 per cent higher than September, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS revealed that sales grew for the sixth consecutive month as online purchases continued to soar.

Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said it was looking like the “most digital Christmas ever”.

He said: “Many retailers are already applying creativity to deliver what is certain to be the most digital Christmas ever; whether it is by value and volume of online purchases or by bringing the in-store Christmas shopping experience online with virtual visits to Santa’s grotto, and festive virtual workshops to follow at home.”

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The ONS figures surpassed the expectations of analysts, with a consensus of economists forecasting a dip of 0.3 per cent for the month.

Sales for October were 5.8 per cent higher than the same month last year as retailers said “consumers had started Christmas shopping earlier this year”. Shoppers spent more online during the month, as sales jumped by 52.8 per cent.

Meanwhile, store sales declined by 3.3 per cent as shops in some regions were affected by tightened restrictions.

Deputy national statistician for economic statistics Jonathan Athow said: “Despite the introduction of some local lockdowns in October, retail sales continued its recent run of strong growth.

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“Feedback from shops suggested some consumers may have brought forward their Christmas shopping, ahead of potential further restrictions. Online stores also saw strong sales, boosted by widespread offers.

“However, the slow recovery in clothing sales has stalled after five consecutive months of increased sales.”

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Shoppers piled through the doors of real and virtual stores in October in a pre-lockdown splurge with sales increasing for a sixth consecutive month.

“Christmas shopping kicked off early with retailers offering discounts to lure customers in.

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“The latest waves of lockdowns across England and vast swathes of Scotland is going to force even more sales online as non-essential retailers are forced to shut up shop once again.”

Clothing retailers reported a 14 per cent slump in sales values in October, as store sales plunged by 22.1 per cent. However, online sales of clothes increased by 17.1 per cent for the month.

Meanwhile, total food sales increased by 3.4 per cent after another surge in online purchases.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, noted: “There was a recovery in almost every category of the sector, and measuring the period to October 31, these figures don’t include the last minute rush to the high street after the second lockdown was announced.

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“In fact, the only category to show a material decline in sales was fashion, with less demand for occasionwear and workwear continuing to hit an already beleaguered part of the market.

“The closure of non-essential stores and slump in consumer sentiment earlier this month will severely hamper the sector with little over a month to go to Christmas and Black Friday just a week away.”

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