Tough Christmas looms despite retail sales lift

Julian Harris
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AGGRESSIVE price cuts led to a surprise jump in retail sales last month, yet separate data suggests that high street stores are set for a tough Christmas.

Sales volumes in October were up 0.9 per cent compared the same time last year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed yesterday. The value of sales, boosted by higher prices, rose 5.4 per cent compared to October 2010.

Yet despite intense inflationary pressures, stores have recently resorted to steep discounting. “Feedback from retailers suggests that the monthly increase in sales volume and value was a result of pre-Christmas sales and in store promotions,” the ONS said.

The volume of sales was up 0.6 per cent in October compared to September, while the value of sales rose 0.7 per cent.

However, John Lewis – often seen as a bellwether for the high street -- has reported weak takings this month. Sales at the store were down 0.8 per cent for the week to Saturday 12 November, compared to the same week last year.

Meanwhile Deloitte has predicted zero growth in total Christmas retail sales. “Deloitte expects no sustainable growth in retail sales until 2013 at the earliest,” it said in a note.