25 January 2018

  |  CBI Press Team

Update

Post-Christmas retail sales growth disappoints

The volume of retail sales grew for the third consecutive month in the year to January, but at a slower pace than anticipated. That’s according to the latest monthly CBI Distributive Trades Survey.

Post-Christmas retail sales growth disappoints

The survey of 107 firms showed that, in the year to January, retail sales grew but sales for the time of year were the weakest against seasonal norms in over four years. Meanwhile, orders placed on suppliers fell, also against expectations of growth.

Looking ahead to the next month, retailers expect similar growth in sales volumes and for orders with suppliers to be flat.

Within the retail sector, robust growth in sales volumes for grocers and non-store retailers offset the decline in furniture & carpets and specialist food & drink.

But in contrast to headline retail sales, growth in online sales rose firmly in the year to January at the fastest rate since this time last year and beating expectations of a marked slowdown in growth. A similar rise in internet sales is expected next month.

Meanwhile, wholesalers continued to report above average growth in sales volumes in the year to January, but motor traders saw a fall in sales volumes for the first time in three months.

Looking at economic growth more broadly, momentum has been tepid for most of 2017. We expected similarly subdued growth to persist further ahead – for more detail, see our latest economic forecast.

Anna Leach, CBI Head of Economic Intelligence, said:

“Retailers have seen fairly modest sales growth this month overall, but it is online retailers who have set the pace during the January sales.

“Household spending will remain under pressure this year from higher inflation and low wage growth, which will continue to weigh on sales growth in the retail sector.”

Key findings

Retailers:

  • 33% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in January on a year ago, whilst 21% said they were down, giving a balance of +12%. This undershot expectations (+17%)
  • 28% of respondents expect sales volumes to increase in February on a year ago with 14% expecting a decrease, giving a rounded balance of +13%
  • 28% of retailers placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago, whilst 33% placed fewer orders, giving a balance of -5%.
  • 9% of retailers reported that their volume of sales for the time of year were good, whilst 25% said they were poor, giving a rounded balance of -17% - the lowest since July 2013
  • Internet sales volumes expanded at a healthy pace (+55%), at the fastest rate since January 2017 (+57%). Internet sales volumes growth is expected to remain strong in the year to February (+51%)
  • Sales volumes expanded in grocers (+48%) and non-store goods (+91%). Meanwhile, sales volumes decreased in specialist food & drink (-32%) and furniture & carpets (-72%).

Wholesalers:

  • 48% of wholesalers reported sales volumes to be up on last year and 14% said they were down, giving a balance of +34%. Volumes are expected to grow at an even swifter pace next month (+44%)

Motor traders:

  • 21% of motor traders reported sales volumes were up on a year ago, whilst 39% said they were down, giving a balance of -18%. This was below expectations (+6%). Volumes are expected to fall at a similar pace next month (-18%).