Dec 7, 2021
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UK retail sales rise, fashion is key driver, say BRC and Barclaycard

Dec 7, 2021

More evidence came through on Tuesday showing that fashion was a key driver of retail spending in the UK last month. Two regular monthly reports (one from the British retail Consortium and the other from Barclaycard) called out fashion as a star category. But the industry remains nervous as the Omicron Covid variant raises the spectre of further pandemic restrictions.

Photo: Pexels/Public domain

According to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, total sales rose 5% last month, compared to growth of only 0.9% a year ago. Like-for-like sales rose 1.8% year-on-year. Non-food retail sales were up 3.9%, or 0.9% on an underlying basis. But online non-food sales were down 17.9% as shoppers returned to stores. Within all this, fashion-linked categories stood out.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “As people prepared their wardrobes for the cold weather, consumers took advantage of discounted clothing, shifting the focus from just electronics and household appliances. Jewellery and watches was the best performing category, followed by clothing and then footwear, while computing was the worst performing.”

Meanwhile, Barclaycard’s report (which looks at wider consumer spending rather than just retail sales) said spending on non-essential items saw its highest increase since before the pandemic, with growth recorded across many sectors.

Spending on non-essential items rose 17.7% and while in-store retail spend was up 6.7%, clothing recorded its largest uplift (+11%) since the pre-Covid period “as shoppers stocked up on warmer items for winter”.

With Christmas on the horizon, 37% of consumers who celebrate it also said they’re buying gifts earlier than normal this year. This comes as ‘specialist retailers’ – such as gift shops, toy shops and jewellers – recorded a sizeable increase of 21.1%. Other categories to benefit included sports and outdoor retailers (+28.8%), as well as pharmacy, health and beauty (+16.5%).

However, Britons are still worried about the long-term stability of their personal finances, with 88% worried about rising household and energy bills, and 87% concerned about rising inflation. This focus on inflation was perhaps a reason for department store spending seeing a 0.1% drop while discounter spend surged 26.2%.

But it's important to remember that November came before the discovery of the new Covid variant that has already hit the travel industry hard in recent days and that could hit fashion retail just as hard if restrictions are brought in. Already there are reports of people returning to work-from-home mode and that a number of Christmas parties and events have been cancelled. This could seriously dent sales of partywear in the next few weeks.

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