In a surprising turn of events, retail sales volumes in the UK experienced a 0.9% decline in September 2023.

This decline followed a modest 0.4% rise in August 2023, as per the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It’s worth noting that the August figures remained unrevised from the previous publication.

Zooming out to a quarterly perspective, the ONS reports that sales volumes have fallen by 0.8% in the three months leading up to September 2023 when compared to the preceding three months.

This quarterly dip indicates a broader trend of subdued retail activity.

Varied impact on different sectors

The fall in retail sales was not uniform across all sectors. Notably, non-food stores saw a significant dip, with sales volumes plummeting by 1.9% in September 2023.

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Retailers attribute this decline to the persistent cost of living pressures and unseasonably warm weather, which hindered sales of autumn clothing.

Non-store retailing, predominantly online retailers, also experienced a downturn. Sales volumes dipped by 2.2% in September 2023, following a decrease of 0.9% in August.

On the brighter side, food stores witnessed a slight increase, with sales volumes rising by 0.2% in September 2023, following a 1.4% surge in August.

Additionally, automotive fuel sales volumes rebounded, rising by 0.8% in September 2023 after a 1.0% decrease in August.

Insights from Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, Head of Retail at Deloitte

Commenting on today’s ONS retail sales figures, Deloitte head of retail Oliver Vernon-Harcourt provided insight into the challenging retail landscape. He said:

“The joint warmest September on record and a return to school failed to fuel overall growth in retail sales in an unexpected, subdued performance. The late summer heatwave delayed the purchase of autumn and winter goods, with continued uncertainty around high mortgage rates, falling house prices and rising rents.”

He further highlighted the financial strains consumers are facing, noting, “The cost of many essential items remains high, following a period of prolonged pressure from food inflation. While food sales saw marginal growth in September, retailers will be focused on providing the best value for their customers in the run-up to the festive period.”

Vernon-Harcourt also provided insights into the upcoming holiday season, stating:

“As we enter the ‘Golden Quarter,’ retailers will be hoping for a steady increase in consumer confidence. Deloitte’s upcoming Consumer Tracker report will show that more consumers are planning to do their Christmas gift shopping on the high street than last year.

“With this in mind, we anticipate a highly competitive festive season for retailers where product, price and availability, combined with great in-store customer service, will be key to secure their share of consumer spend.”