Kitchenware provides one of the few bright spots in the latest retail sales figures, released today in the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.
The British Retail Consortium’s director general, Stephen Robertson, said there was “a worrying lack of cheer” in the figures. “The weakest increase in sales for six months suggests consumers are keeping a tight rein on their spending, despite Christmas being so near,” he said.
Like-for-like UK retail sales values in November were 1.6% lower than in November 2010, when sales had risen 0.7%. On a total basis, sales were up only 0.7%, against a 2.8% increase last November. On both counts, sales performance was the weakest since May.
In the three months September to November 2011 like-for-like non-food sales were 2.1% down on those of the same period last year, with total non-food sales down 0.5% and largely promotion-led.
However, while big-ticket homewares, furniture and home textiles such as duvets, bedlinen and soft furnishings all suffered, kitchenware and floorcare put in a reasonable performance “as consumer uncertainty and tight household budgets meant essentials continued to take priority over discretionary and decorative items”, according to the monitor.
And, again, in the electrical category kitchen appliances and cleaning products held up “as consumers concentrated on essentials and practical items”.
Growth of non-food non-store sales, via the internet, mail order and phone, fell back in November after picking up in October, although sales were still 8.6% up on a year ago.
However, said Robertson: “The growth in non-food non-store sales looks impressive next to the sector’s overall performance, but in fact this is its weakest result since Easter and business is growing at half the rate it was this time last year.
“Consumers are not quite in the Christmas mindset yet,” he went on, “although stores are working to generate much-needed sales with high levels of festive discounting.”
And head of retail at KPMG, Helen Dickinson, said: “The latest figures prove once more that the health of UK retailing is deteriorating. Christmas is a crucial trading period for the UK retail sector but this year many retailers will be nervous and unsure as to how the season will pan out. Cash-strapped consumers continue to be reticent and last week’s gloomy economic forecast by the Chancellor won’t help to boost confidence levels.
“Any sales are hard won, with high discount and promotion levels. Retailers’ performance is suffering because of weak top-line growth and declining margins, making the backdrop even more challenging. December will require some tough decisions for a number of retailers as they struggle to plot a path in such challenging conditions.”