Watch Video: ‘Christmas has come early for retailers’: Shops enjoy bounce back to near pre-pandemic levels as data shows UK retail sales rose by 0.8% in October – with charity shops, toy stores and sports retailers leading the charge

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‘Christmas has come early for retailers’: Shops enjoy bounce back to near pre-pandemic levels as data shows UK retail sales rose by 0.8% in October – with charity shops, toy stores and sports retailers leading the charge

  • Office for National Statistics says retail sales volumes rose by 0.8% last month compared to September
  • Non-food stores were the only main retail sector to see a rise in sales volumes in the last month – up 4.2%
  • Charity shops, auction houses, toy stores and sports equipment stores were particularly strong, ONS says
  • Clothing stores sales volumes in October were only 0.5% below pre-pandemic levels in February 2020

Shoppers have started Christmas shopping early this year as sales at clothes stores came close to pre-pandemic levels – but online sales fell to lows not seen since the start of the crisis, official data revealed today.

The rush to get presents sorted in plenty of time helped push overall sales volumes up in October by 0.8 per cent – ending a five-month run of falling or flat volumes, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It was also above the figure in a Reuters poll of economists which had suggested a 0.5 per cent month-on-month increase. Last month’s sales fall of 0.2 per cent between September and August was revised up to 0 per cent.

Experts said the early Christmas buying was ‘probably spurred by concerns about item availability and a desire not to miss out on the festive season’, and consumers still preferred shopping in-store for seven out of ten purchases.

Other analysts said there were ‘signs Christmas has come early for retailers’ with many shoppers not waiting until Halloween was over before hitting the stores amid concerns gifts and toys could be in short supply this year.

ONS statisticians said non-food stores were the only main retail sector to see a rise in sales volumes in the last month, with charity shops, auction houses, toy stores, sports equipment stores and clothes stores all up.

Clothes stores saw sales volumes up 6.2 per cent, with retailers suggesting early Christmas trading had boosted sales, with some customers keen to not miss out due to supply chain shortages hitting the industry. This meant clothes stores are now just 0.5 per cent below pre-pandemic levels recorded in February 2020, the ONS added.

Fuel sales fell back sharply last month by 6.4 per cent as they returned to more typical levels after panic buying in September. Food sales volumes fell by 0.3 per cent but remain above pre-pandemic levels by 3.4 per cent.

Online sales dropped significantly to account for 27.3 per cent of overall sales in October. This meant the proportion of online sales was at its lowest level since March 2020 – although this remains well above the pre-pandemic level of 19.7 per cent recorded in February 2020.

It comes as families face a brutal squeeze after inflation soared to the highest level in a decade – heaping pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates. The headline CPI rate spiked to 4.2 per cent in October from 3.1 per cent in September, driven by supply chain chaos, labour shortages and surges in energy costs.

ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said today: ‘After five months of no growth, retail sales picked up in October. Although sales overall are above pre-pandemic levels, it remains a mixed picture.

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