Retail sales defy gloomy predictions ahead of a bumper Black Friday

Helen Cahill
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Christmas Shoppers Hunt For Gifts On The High Street
Shoppers will be flocking to the West End during the Christmas season (Source: Getty)

Retail sales have outperformed expectations ahead of the nation's biggest shopping spree - Black Friday.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the volume of retail sales increased by 7.3 per cent in October compared to the same month in 2015 - the highest growth rate for fourteen years. The amount spent online grew by 27 per cent annually.

Sales are expected to pick up even more when the Christmas season kicks off with Black Friday next week.

Read more: Keep calm and carry on shopping: Retail sales smash expectations

Britain will spend £2.31m per minute on the big day, the Centre for Retail Research has predicted, reaching a spend of nearly £2bn in total.

Steven Medway, managing director for trading environment at retail group the New West End Company, said: “This year retailers are expected to extend promotions from Friday to Monday to entice shoppers into their stores in the first key peak weekend of the festive period.

"This calendar date marked the second busiest shopping day of the year for the West End in 2015, with £100m spend. With increased spend coming from overseas visitors in recent months, this year Black Friday could be bigger than ever.”

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However, Black Friday is no longer a single day, it has evolved into a week-long shopping spree. The sales have begun online, with discounts already available with Amazon and Argos. IMRG has predicted that the UK will spend £6.77bn online between 21 and 28 November, with 53 per cent of sales expected to come from mobile devices.

Keith Richardson, head of retail at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said that consumer spending has been holding up this year despite the uncertainty of the UK's economic outlook following the Brexit vote.

"You’ll still be getting people looking to enjoy themselves," Richardson said. "The customer at this stage has been cocooned from any impact all.

"People are more used to seeing seasonal discounts. There has been both availability, and keenness in discounting. Thankfully we haven’t seen any impact [of the Brexit vote] on employment either."

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He said that prices on staple items were unlikely to move dramatically due to fierce competition in the retail sector, and especially supermarkets. However, how prices of big-ticket items such as electricals will change remains unknown.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Markit, said: "In the near-term, there is the possibility that some consumers will bring forward purchases of big-ticket items in the belief that their prices are likely to rise appreciably over the coming months.

"A major concern for the economic outlook - and for retailers in particular - is that it looks inevitable that the fundamentals for consumers will progressively weaken over the coming months with inflation rising markedly due to the weakened pound and companies likely increasingly looking to hold down pay to limit their total costs. Indeed, it looks probable that inflation will move above earnings growth during 2017."