Stats show UK fashion had tough October, e-tail and second-hand goods rose

UK retail sales continued to confuse in October with a mix of falls and rises by volume and value, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said Thursday. Yet while food and, surprisingly, second-hand goods, made most newspaper headlines, the big question is, what happened to fashion?


UK shoppers stayed cautious last month official stats showed - Ted Baker


Well, ‘non-food’ stores, which account for just over 42% of the total and are dominated by outlets such as department stores and fashion stores, were weak. Non-food sales fell 1% on a volume basis year-on-year and 1.7% by value. Given that prices here had risen around 2.5%, the fall was actually larger than that 1.7% suggests as retailers were clearly unable to claw back their own higher input costs from their customers.

Specialist textile and fashion stores saw the volume of sales dropping 1.8% and even though the value of sales rose by 1.4%, again that inflation figure meant the increase wasn’t enough.

However, at least online sales values increased year-on-year by 10.7%, and accounted for approximately 16.9% of all retail spending, up from 
15.7% a year ago. The average weekly spend online was £1.2 billion.

The ONS said that the problem for fashion came as the weather stayed mild. “Feedback from a number of clothing retailers suggested that a particularly mild October meant that consumers delayed purchasing winter season clothing,” it said, adding that the UK average temperature was above the long-term average for the month.

The bleak picture for fashion came as overall retail sales volumes in the UK fell 0.3% year-on-year, although month-on-month sales volumes rose by 0.1%. Value sales rose 2.8% on the year (beating inflation but only just) and 0.1% on the month. All those figures exclude fuel sales.

As mentioned, the ONS said that second-hand goods stores (charity shops, auction houses, antiques and fine art dealers) provided the largest contribution to the month-on-month growth, although that, too, is a confusing figure. Did it means that cash-strapped consumers turned to charity stores in greater numbers or were Britons out buying fine art en masse? Well, anecdotal evidence suggest that the antiques trade is as much in the doldrums at present as fashion retail is, so it looks like the charity shop habit could be the answer, a further sign of consumer belt-tightening.

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