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  • Writer's picturePaul Andrews

Retailers Anticipate Disappointing Festive Period

Retail sales volumes fell year-on-year in November for the seventh consecutive month, according to the latest quarterly CBI Distributive Trades Survey. Despite a slight uptick in sentiment, firms expect sales to decline again in December.

Retailers also reported a reduction in headcount in the year to November, while investment is set to decline in the year ahead. Price pressures in the sector are expected to remain acute.

The key survey findings included:

  • Retail sales volumes fell in the year to November, but at a slower pace than last month (weighted balance of -11% from -36% in the year to October). Retailers expect an even slower decline in volumes next month (-6%).

  • Sales were seen as disappointing for the time of year in November (-16% from -10% in October). Sales volumes are expected to fall short of seasonal norms to broadly similar extent next month (-15%).

  • Sentiment amongst retailers recovered somewhat in November, with firms expecting their business situation to improve slightly over the next three months (+4% from -14% in August).

  • Retailers expect to reduce investment in the next 12 months (compared to the past 12), but to a lesser extent than in August (-11% from -25%).

  • Retailers reported a milder reduction in headcount in the year to November compared to the previous quarter (-11% from -20% in August). Employment in the retail sector is expected to be broadly unchanged next month (+1%).

  • Retail selling prices continued to rise at a rapid pace in the year to November (+73% from +73% in August; long-run average of +41%). Selling prices are expected to maintain a similar rate of growth next month (+72%).

Martin Sartorius, CBI Principal Economist, said: “Retail sales have languished in negative territory for much of 2023, reflecting the impact of strained household finances on the sector’s fortunes. Though sentiment has picked up slightly, firms do not feel that a revival in activity is imminent. Given the weakness in trading conditions, it’s little surprise that firms are scaling back on their investment ambitions.”

“Retailers had hoped the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement would offer a reprieve from next year’s hike in business rates. While prioritising relief for SMEs and key sectors is understandable, many retailers are being left to contend with another increase in costs at a time when they are least able to afford them.”

In addition, data from the survey showed:

  • Retailers cut back on orders placed upon suppliers in the year to November, but to a lesser degree than in the previous month (-22% from -37% in October). Orders are expected to decline at a marginally faster pace next month (-26%).

  • Retailers reported that stock positions were still “too high” despite softening in November (+13% from +27% in October). Stock volumes look set to remain similarly elevated relative to expected sales next month (+12%).

  • Internet sales volumes continued to fall rapidly in the year to November, though the contraction has moderated compared with last month’s record rate of decline (-39% from -78% in October). Online sales are expected to fall at a broadly similar pace again next month (-42%).

  • Elsewhere in the distribution sector, wholesale volumes fell in the year to November, but at a slightly slower pace than last month (-11% from -15% in October). Wholesalers expect the sales downturn to moderate further next month (-4%). Meanwhile, motor trade volumes grew slightly in the year to November (+6% from -5% in October). Motor traders expect volumes to fall next month (-15%).

The survey included 131 respondents, of which 53 were retailers.


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