Sorry, Britain, the Retail Grinch Still Lurks

Britain’s latest retail sales report won't save Christmas.

The volume of goods sold in stores and online jumped 1.4 percent in November compared with October, according to the Office for National Statistics, smashing through the 0.3 percent forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Excluding fuel, the increase was 1.2 percent.

Black Friday discounting seems to have played a big role, as did a boost from online sales – which reached 20 percent of the total for the first time. The pound rose on the report. Household goods sales were also strong. But there was hardly any growth in clothing and footwear, while activity at department stores actually shrank. 

But there are a lot of reasons for thinking this happy news, coming after grim announcements from the likes of Asos Plc earlier this week, isn’t going to last.

First, a downward revision is still possible. And with the rosy outlook contrasting so strikingly with the sentiment from many retailers, it is fair to ask whether the ONS is on the same planet as many store chains.

Also, over the past five years, consumers have pulled forward spending from from December into November, as the Black Friday annual promotional event has grown in importance. That means this could be as good as it gets.

Sorry, Britain, the Retail Grinch Still Lurks

This weekend will be the final push for retailers before the holiday. But the mix of Brexit gloom, unseasonably warm weather over the past few months and panic discounting means it may not be the Christmas gift that long-suffering stores have been hoping for. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

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