October retail sales disappoint, but fashion stays the strongest sector
The latest High Street Sales Tracker from BDO on Friday showed that retail sales growth was disappointing in October, with a strong first week of sales masking poor performance across the rest of the month as the so-called Golden Quarter got off to slow start.
Total like-for-like (LFL) sales grew by 3.5% year on year, which isn’t great given that inflation is hovering around double-digits. The uplift last year had been 19.9% as the retail sector continued its recovery from the pandemic.
At least total non-store LFLs recorded the first positive results (+0.5%) since July, following negative results in August and September. But that increase wasn’t exactly huge.
And with growth of just 5.9%, total in-store LFLs represented the lowest results since stores reopened when the UK emerged from lockdown in 2021.
As mentioned, the month had started well with an increase of 11.48%, although BDO said “these positive results were likely making up for the slowdown in sales resulting from the bank holiday funeral of Queen Elizabeth II” shortly before.
However as mentioned, the following weeks showed much lower levels of growth, with weeks two and three recording total LFL growth of only 5.63% and 4.16%, respectively. Then in the fourth week LFL growth fell to 0.27% and in the final week of the month, sales turned negative, falling by 1.84%.
Was there any good news? Well yes, for the fashion sector. It was the strongest performing category throughout October, with total LFLs climbing by 6.7%, from a base of 36.8% last year. This marked 20 consecutive months of positive total LFL sales figures for the fashion sector, but was the third straight month of slower growth. And that growth still lagged the inflation figure.
Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “This is a disappointing start to the most important part of the retail calendar. After a summer of sluggish retail sales growth, retailers would have been hoping for performance to pick up once we reached the Golden Quarter. However, like-for-like sales are continuing to trend downwards, as consumer confidence remains at near record lows.
“October may have started strongly but sales quickly tailed off, with negative results in the final week of the month. If we remove the first week of the month from these results, which was making up for the held back spend of the extra bank holiday, retail sales grew by only 1.8%. Given the current level of inflation, this means that actual sales volumes have decreased significantly.
“We are likely to see different actions being taken by retailers in the run up to Black Friday depending on their performance to date, stock levels and also challenges that they may be facing on working capital. Across the sector it’s clear that retailers will have to think carefully on pricing to persuade shoppers to part with their cash, without further impacting their already low profit margins. As ever, some will look to make operational savings or reduce costs through the supply chain, but when faced with such strong economic headwinds, there is only so much the sector can do to preserve their business.”
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