Sep 24, 2021
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UK retail sales growth slows, stores fret over supply chain woes

Sep 24, 2021

Hopes that strong retail sales in the summer would continue into early autumn seem to have been dashed — at least that’s the case according to the earliest of the monthly retail sales reports to come out.

Photo: Pixabay/Public domain

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) monthly Distributive Trades Survey showed growth slowing sharply in September after a bumper summer, while growth in orders placed with suppliers also slowed.

The survey of 126 companies, including 45 retailers, found that respondents viewed sales as poor for the time of year for the first time since March 2021. Yet sales are expected to be “broadly average” for the time of year in October.

While the CBI survey is the first of the monthly assessments to come out (culminating in the official Office for National Statistics figures) and can also be prone to revisions, it’s still a good guide to the general direction in which retail is going.

So what did the retailers the CBI spoke to say this time? Well, one big story was worries over the availability of supplies as the combination of Brexit and the lingering effects of the pandemic hit supply chains hard. Stock levels in relation to expected sales were seen as too low for the fifth consecutive month in September and are expected to remain too low next month.

Another headline was that growth slowdown. The sales balance for September was +11%, which may look good were it not for the fact that August was a much healthier +60%. That +11% reading was the lowest since March (when Britain was still in the middle of its latest lockdown) and fell far short of economist forecasts. Next month should be around +29% though.

Internet sales growth also slowed in the year to September (down to +26% from +34%) and has now been below the long-run average for five consecutive months, with a similar pace of growth expected in the year to October.

“Demand cooled for retailers in the year to September after running red hot over the summer, pushing sales below seasonal norms for the first time since March”, CBI economist Ben Jones said.

And he added that “respondents to our survey have told us that they do not expect the transport and production issues that are causing shortages to ease significantly until at least next year and, in some cases, beyond”.

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