Brief Brexit respite for shoppers, as focus turns to Christmas

Shoppers out in Belfast for Black Friday. Picture by Ann McManus.

SHOPPERS appeared to temporarily brush Brexit concerns to one side in November as the focus shifted to finding Christmas bargains, according to a new index out today.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG retail sales monitor said growth appeared stronger than in previous months amid signs that consumers have put concerns about political uncertainty aside for now to concentrate on the festive season.

Total retail sales were down by 4.4 per cent year-on-year between October 27 and November 23, according to the retail sales monitor.

But the report said this figure was distorted by the late timing of Black Friday this year.

When figures were adjusted to take account of this year's Black Friday having fallen on November 29, UK retail sales actually increased 0.9 per cent on a total basis, and were up by 0.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis, the index found.

The adjustments were made by excluding Black Friday week from the 2018 comparison.

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said it was "heartening" to see that consumer spending is up slightly in what had been a tough trading year, given events here and across the UK.

“Retailers have responded to consumer demand by having wider and earlier discounts to allow people to spread the cost of Christmas," he said.

“However there is all to play for as December accounts for an eighth of everything that retailers sell throughout the year which sees them through the leaner months at the start of the year.

“While we hope that this proves to be a successful festive period for retail sectors across our industry, what is clear is that there are lots of bargains to be had in stores across Northern Ireland."

Helen Dickinson, BRC's chief executive said once the figures were adjusted to take account of the timing of Black Friday, growth appeared stronger in November than in previous months.

"Shoppers appeared ready to take advantage of the great bargains available, both online and on the high street," she said.

"Electronics and clothes both benefited from big discounts, with the recent cold snap adding further urgency to purchases of winter-wear.

"Furthermore, as the spectre of a no-deal Brexit has been pushed back to after Christmas, consumers were more prepared to open their wallets to do a little extra festive spending."

She said the next government must be ready to "hit the ground running" on December 13.

Ms Dickinson said: "If the next Government wishes to see retail spending remain healthy in 2020 it is essential they clarify our future relationship with the EU as soon as possible."

Paul Martin, UK head of retail, KPMG, said: "At first glance, November's decline in like-for-like retail sales of 4.9 per cent will leave retailers reaching for the smelling salts, but context is key.

"If adjusted for the later timing of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, sales are more likely to have increased by a more palatable 0.4 per cent like-for-like.

"Over the course of November, consumers will have held off making purchases in anticipation of discounts to come, despite many retailers spreading out promotions across several days, if not weeks.

"That said, consumers will also have put Brexit and political uncertainty to one side temporarily, focusing on promotions and the upcoming festivities instead."

The findings were released as a separate report from Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the UK's credit and debit card transactions, indicated shoppers are keen to seek out a good deal this Christmas.

Barclaycard said spending on non-essentials was up 1.3 per cent annually.

Spending in discount stores was up by 6.9 per cent annually - but department stores saw a sharp 5.9 per cent spending fall, it said.

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