High-street sales were flat in the year to November, disappointing retailers' expectations for the second consecutive month, the CBI said.
Department stores, grocers and clothing shops were some of the worst hit, whereas hardware & DIY performed very strongly, according to the CBI's latest Quarterly Distributive Trades Survey of 129 firms (71 retailers, 50 wholesalers and 8 motor traders) between the 28th of October and the 15th of November.
Following lower than expected sales, the volume of orders placed with suppliers was flat this month, having held up in the year to October. But despite two disappointing months for sales, employment in the retail sector increased in the year to November. Retailers continued to expect the business situation to improve in the quarter ahead, and overall investment intentions for the year ahead improved, moving from negative to flat.
Elsewhere, wholesalers' sales were broadly flat on a year ago, following five months of growth, and sales declined in the motor trade sector.
Barry Williams, Asda Chief Merchandising Officer for Food, and Chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Survey Panel, said:
"This is the second month in a row that retailers' expectations for growth have been disappointed, perhaps due in part to the mild start to autumn.
"But despite challenging conditions on the high-street, retailers remain optimistic for the Christmas period, and have taken on more employees in anticipation of a shopping rush that should add jingle to the tills."
• 35% of respondents reported that sales were up on a year ago, while 34% said they were down, giving a balance1 of +1%, well below expectations (+23%)
• 41% expect sales growth to return next month, while 18% expect sales to decrease giving a rounded balance of +24%
• Many sub-sectors saw a decline in sales growth – department stores (-28%), grocers (-20%), clothing (-15%), whereas the hardware & DIY sector performed very strongly (+100%)
• 26% placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago and 25% placed fewer orders, giving a balance of +1%
• Employment increased in the three months to November (+20%) and is expected to increase again next month (+15%)
• 14% of firms said they expect their business situation to improve over the next three months, whereas 8% said they expected it to deteriorate, giving a balance of +6%
• Retailers' investment intentions, for buildings, machinery and commercial vehicles for the next twelve months were broadly flat (-2%).
• 25% of wholesalers reported that sales were up on a year ago, while 21% said they were down, giving a rounded balance of +3%
• Sales of industrial materials (+36%), building materials (+56%) and durable household goods (+20%) grew, whereas food & drink (-52%) and agricultural & industrial machinery (-15%) fell. Clothing, textiles & footwear sales were broadly flat (-3%).
• Motor trades
• 29% of motor traders reported that sales were up on a year ago, while 55% said they were down, giving a balance of -26%. This was significantly worse than expectations (+88%) and followed strong growth in the previous month (+94%)
• Nevertheless, firms continued to expect the business situation to improve over the coming three months (+25%) – the highest balance since February 2002 (+40%).
1. A balance is the difference between the percentage of retailers reporting an increase and those reporting a decrease.