By Marcus Leach
The retail figures reported today (Thursday) by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) paint a picture of significant annual sales growth the majority of retailers will not recognise.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says the statistics appear to fly in the face of recent retail failures and profit warnings. The ONS figures show the value of sales (excluding fuel, not seasonally adjusted) up 3.3 per cent on November a year ago.
The BRC's own, highly-regarded, survey shows retail sales flat-lining, with total sales value growth of just 0.7 per cent over the same period. The ONS indicates sales volumes up on a year ago. The BRC says, allowing for the effect of inflation including VAT, volumes are down.
"These ONS figures seem to fly in the face of retailers' experiences on the streets," British Retail Consortium Director General, Stephen Robertson, said.
"The evidence we're receiving suggests consumers have approached this Christmas with great caution, reining in their spending in November and leaving it late to start their Christmas shopping.
"The values retailers reported to us showed November sales barely up on a year ago, the weakest growth for six months. The continuing high levels of pre-Christmas discounting and promotions are another symptom of weak demand. Retailers know they need to fight hard for every pound that's out there in the hope of attracting business which would otherwise go to their rivals.
"Ultimately there will be a boost from Christmas. People are generally determined to treat themselves at this time of year if they possibly can, unhampered I hope by the severe weather which disrupted shopping last year. Christmas is the most important trading period for the retail sector. The remaining days will be crucial. Our December sales figures, out on 10 January, will tell the final story."
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