Retailers will be hoping for a last-minute Christmas boost from shoppers, as new retail sales figures reveal that customers felt cautious about spending last month.
Latest research from the British Retail Consortium/KPMG Retail Sales Monitor shows that the value of UK retail sales was up 0.4% on a like-for-like basis from November 2011, when they were down 1.6% on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were up 1.8%, against a 0.7% rise in November 2011.
Although online sales rose 7.5% on November 2011 they showed no material pick-up from October, but non-food sales benefited from the favourable timing of the half-term.
The Monitor found that the November weather favoured sales of heating products to the detriment of outdoors and garden products, and some decorating items also took a larger share while showroom items continued to struggle.
The demise of Comet translated into more sales for the other players on some lines, but also more competition on discounted products. Large electricals are benefiting from the fact that many people cannot afford to move house but still want to make their homes more comfortable, and small appliances related to cooking were in demand ahead of the festive season.
"November was off to a flying start, helped by end-of-month paydays, mid-season sales and the impact of half term, which had been in the previous month last year," commented BRC director general Stephen Robertson. "But sales growth slowed as November unfolded, suggesting that customers are taking care not to spend too much too soon. Overall, the emphasis continued to be on value, with consumers looking at lower-priced gifts.
"The same caution hit online sales, which delivered their third worst performance of the year. With consumers conscious that there will be a full shopping weekend immediately before Christmas, retailers are holding their nerve and counting on a last minute rush in the crucial final weeks."
Speaking specifically about non-food online sales, Mr Robertson added: "It looks as if consumers were holding off buying because of lack of spare cash and so online sales conversions may have fallen. They may also have been waiting in expectation of discounts. A risky strategy for in-demand products, but a sign that customers have faith that the ever-shorter delivery times achieved by retailers mean they can order later and still get their goods in time for Christmas."