Gloomy start to Christmas as shoppers look out for bargains

 
Tim Wallace
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RETAIL sales are barely kept pace with inflation last month, according to official figures out yesterday, with squeezed consumers waiting for discounts rather than splashing out for Christmas.

The quantity of goods bought in November rose 0.9 per cent on the year, while the amount spent increased 1.5 per cent, showing a small rise, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported.

Over the same period prices increased 0.5 per cent.

But sales were flat compared with October and the amount spent fell 0.1 per cent on the month.

Online sales rose 1.4 per cent on the month and 0.5 per cent on the year, taking the estimated average online weekly spend in November to £711m.

“Today’s data shows a modest increase in retail sales value but the reality is that this is barely tracking inflation, footfall is down and volumes are flat,” said KPMG’s David McCorquodale.

“We are seeing the results of shoppers quite simply having less money to spend. Many of those buying for Christmas are stretching themselves to do so and are therefore seeking out – and waiting for – bargains. And, in response, discounts have been available as retailers have competed hard for the festive pound through November and December.”

The longer term picture is similarly gloomy. The ONS’s studies show retail sales largely unchanged from 2007 through to 2011, with only slow growth in the last year.

“Household’s real incomes – defined as average weekly earnings having accounted for inflation - are still decreasing, which has led to a fall in consumer buying power, especially for the squeezed middle,” its report noted.