Grocers lead as retail sales grow at fastest rate for 18 months

UK retail sales volumes grew at the fastest rate since April 2019 in the year to September, according to data from the CBI, with grocers the primary driver. On average, retail sales are still considered 8% lower than would have been expected in ‘normal’ conditions (without a pandemic).

The survey of 123 companies, including 56 retailers, revealed a huge range of trends across the sector. Amongst them:

-Sales of household furniture were 39% higher than normal
-DIY & hardware sales were up 20%
-Groceries up 10%
-Clothing down 40%
-Department store sales down 23%
-A slowdown in internet sales growth to below long-run average

Wholesalers meanwhile reported their sixth consecutive month of declining sales volumes, and at a sharper pace than last month; and motor traders reported their third consecutive month of sales growth, although this was slower than in the year to August.

Ben Jones, the CBI's principal economist, said the recovery in retail spending over the summer months has continued into September, which is welcome news, but that retailers are cautious over the near-term outlook.

“The data highlights that there have been clear winners and losers within the retail sector as spending habits have changed. While some sub-sectors are thriving, others are still facing desperately difficult times.

“With social distancing measures tightening again, those working in the hardest-hit sectors will be fearing the worst. It’s clear that targeted support measures will be needed to ensure that viable businesses can emerge intact on the other side of this crisis.”

Looking ahead to next month, the volume of sales is expected to be broadly stable in the year to October, while on balance firms consider the level of sales will remain average for the time of year.

The CBI's data was collected between 27th August and 15th September.

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