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CBI: Retail Sales Expected To Stabilise As Restrictions Ease

People shopping centre escalator - IR Stone - shutterstock_237523528.jpg

Retail sales volumes fell in the year to November, but online sales rose at the fastest pace in two years according to the latest CBI quarterly Distributive Trades Survey.

The survey of 114 firms, of which 57 were retailers, found that overall retail sales volumes fell in the year to November at a similar pace to the previous month. However, internet sales grew at the fastest pace since October 2018, suggesting a substitution in spending away from in-store retailing during the month-long lockdown in England from 5th November, which closed all non-essential retail stores.

Against a backdrop of sequential lockdowns across the UK, the overall level of sales was seen as below average for the time of year to the greatest degree since June. Looking ahead, retailers expect sales volumes to be broadly flat in the year to December, with the current English lockdown due to end on 2nd December.

Meanwhile, retailers reported that employment fell further in the year to November, but the pace of decline eased compared with August, with a similar fall expected in the year to December. Investment intentions for the year ahead remain negative, but less so than in August or May.

Overall, retailers’ sentiment about the general business situation over the next three months deteriorated, following a slight improvement in August.

Ben Jones, CBI Principal Economist, said:

“This month’s survey gives hope that the economic impact of the Autumn lockdowns should not be as severe as in the Spring. Both consumers and firms are adapting as best they can, borne out in this month’s strong online sales.

“For many retail sectors, particularly those with less of an online presence, conditions remain extremely challenging. Retailers will be looking to salvage what they can from a very difficult year and many will be greatly relieved by the announcement that they can re-open over the crucial Christmas trading period.

“With encouraging progress on mass, rapid testing and vaccine solutions coming down the track, there is reason for growing consumer and business confidence going into 2021.”

Key findings:

Figures are balance statistics unless otherwise stated.


  • Retail sales fell at a similar pace to last month in the year to November (balance of -25%, from -23%).
  • Orders fell, but at the slowest pace since December 2019 (balance of -10% from -39%) and are expected to fall at a similar pace next month (-13%).
  • Internet sales grew at the fastest pace since October 2018 (balance of +55% from +47%) and are expected to grow at a similar pace in December (+53%).
  • Stock levels are below the long-run average (balance of +14% from +6%; average +18%) and are expected to remain so next month (+12%).

Wholesalers and motor trade

  • Wholesaler sales volumes fell at a slower pace (balance of -12%, from -20%), with a similar fall expected next month (-13%).  Meanwhile, motor trade volumes fell for a second consecutive month (-28%, from -32%) and are expected to continue to fall in December (-32%).
  • Orders placed on suppliers by wholesalers fell slightly (balance of -5%, from -12%) with a further fall expected next month (-7%). Orders for motor traders decreased further (-44% from -27%), with the pace of decline expected to accelerate in December (-57%).
  • Both wholesalers (balance of -9% from 0%) and motor traders (-13% from 0%) reported stock levels as too low compared to expected sales. Whilst wholesalers expect a rebound next month (+18), motor traders do not (-9%).

Quarterly questions

  • Average retail selling prices increased compared to last November (balance of +40% from +17%) and at the fastest pace since February, although price inflation is expected to ease next quarter (+33%).
  • Retail investment intentions for the year ahead fell in November, but at a slower pace than in August (balance of -12% from -32%)
  • Retail employment continued to fall compared to a year ago, but at a slower pace than in August (balance of -32% from -45%).

Source : CBI

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24 November 2020

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Thank you for the excellent presentation that you gave at Woodbury Park on Thursday morning. It was very interesting and thought-provoking for our Retail members. The feedback has been excellent.

Martin Elliott. Chief Executive - Home Hardware.

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