By Francesca James

UK retail sales values were 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.

Non-food benefitted from the favourable timing of the half-term this month while food was characterised by cautiousness ahead of the gift buying season. On a 3-month basis, food declined in real terms.

Online sales were up 7.5% versus November 2011, showing no material pick-up from October.

Stephen Robertson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said: "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. But sales growth slowed as November unfolded, suggesting that customers are taking care not to spend too much too soon, although must-have toy and technology items did well as people bought early so as not to be disappointed.

"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."

David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG, said: "November was a cautious month of wait and see. The like-for-like indicators in food and non-food are positive but only just, against a weak set of comparatives last year. It appears that consumers know they have to spend before Christmas but are holding off for as long as they can to see if there might be bargains available in the next few weeks. Retailers meanwhile are trying to hold firm to maintain their margins but, if volumes don't pick up significantly in the next two weeks, some will bow to the pressure to clear stocks before the year end and cut their prices.‪‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

"Another interesting dynamic was the double digit increase in like-for-likes across clothing and in children's footwear during the first week of the month. This perhaps reflects the strain on family finances as necessities are only bought in the immediate aftermath of the monthly payday.

"Much is hoped for from the Chancellor's Autumn statement but in the meantime, retailers enter December in a state of nervousness due to weak top-line growth and pressure on margins. Pricing throughout the month and strategic promotions will be fundamental in a key month."