14 Nov 2019

October’s retail sales lay bare uncertainty

With retail sales dropping month-on-month and growth slowing over the past six months, the high street is crying out for a vote of confidence from the British public before they head to the polls in a time of chronic uncertainty. 

The key findings from the Office for National Statistics showed:

  • In the three months to October 2019, the quantity bought in retail sales increased by 0.2% when compared with the previous three months; this is the lowest growth since April 2018.
  • Food stores were the only main sector to see growth (0.8%) in the three-month on three-month series.
  • The quantity bought in October 2019 fell by 0.1% when compared with the previous month, with only fuel and department stores reporting growth.
  • Year-on-year growth in the quantity bought increased by 3.1% in October 2019, with growth across all sectors except household goods stores.
  • Online sales as a proportion of all retailing increased to 19.2% in October 2019, from the 19.0% reported in September 2019.


Phil Mullis, Partner and Head of Retail and Wholesale at one of the UK’s leading business advisory firms, Wilkins Kennedy part of CogitalGroup, said: “October heralds the start of the golden trading quarter for many retailers, increasing the temptation to heavily discount items to encourage consumers to spend – this may be why department stores experienced the slightest of growth – but the ongoing economic uncertainty continues to hang over the UK.

“While the year-on-year stats paint a positive picture of growth, this needs to be treated with caution given the very slow rate of growth over the past six months, and the month-on-month decline in quantity bought.

“It was disappointing to see yet more high street casualties with fashion retailers Bon Marche and Forever 21 entering administration - as well as Mothercare – which is a trend we will continue to see until consumer confidence is given a boost.

“The upcoming General Election exacerbates retailers’ Christmas forecasting even further. Will consumers go about their usual business and shop as normal during the Black Friday deals, or will they keep hold of their money to see how the markets and companies react once a new Prime Minister is sworn in and the country’s Brexit route is clarified?

“There could well end up being more than one Black Friday period this year to account for the uncertainty that is hanging over the country.

“Revisiting prices is an approach that a lot of other retailers should consider looking at in the long-term. The approach is working for businesses across different sectors – Aldi and Lidl are gaining market share, while B&M has just announced it is opening more stores – it is a sign of the times and those who fail to adapt will ultimately be left behind.”

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