Retail sales tumble as downturn enters its sixth month

Retail sales volumes fell sharply in the year to October, according to recent data from the Confederation of British Industry. Retailers do not anticipate a turnaround in the sector’s fortunes next month, it said, with sales volumes expected to continue falling in the year to November.

The CBI’s Distributive Trades Survey showed that retail sales dropped to -36 per cent last month compared to -14 per cent in the year to September. This marks the sixth month in a row in which annual sales have declined, and October’s level was the joint-worst October level since 2017, which at the time was the lowest reading for the month since records started in 1983.

In addition, CBI data from the survey also showed that internet sales volumes fell at the fastest pace on record too, -78 per cent in October from -3 per cent in September.

Martin Sartorius, CBI Principal Economist, said that as the festive period approaches, the retail sector remains in a “perilous position”, and that retailers expect the downturn in sales to continue next month, “albeit at a slower pace”.

He added: “While slowing inflation should help to bolster households’ income in the coming months, retailers will continue to face headwinds from higher energy and borrowing costs.”

This comes after data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) earlier last month showed that the warm weather in September resulted in a slowdown in sales growth; figures increased by 2.7 per cent in September, against a growth of 2.2 per cent in the same month in 2022.

Non-food sales, however, decreased 1.2 per cent on a total basis over the three-months to September.

BRC Chief Exec, Helen Dickinson, noted: “As the high cost of living continues to bear down on households, sales growth has slowed. Big ticket items such as electricals performed poorly as consumers limited spending in the face of higher housing, rental and fuel costs.”