Reasons for cautious optimism among beleaguered retailers

Commenting on the latest retail sales figures for November from the Office of National Statistics, Andrew Westbrook, head of retail at RSM said:

'The November figures may look a little underwhelming but it's important to remember that they don't take account of Black Friday which fell outside the reporting period. 

'The torrid weather in November didn't help, and there is some evidence that consumers held back at the beginning of the month in anticipation of the start of the discounting period. 

'On a more positive note, early indications suggest that Black Friday provided a much-needed boost to struggling operators. Barclaycard reported a 16.5 per cent rise in transaction values on the day while High Street footfall was also up. 

'The ONS figures also show a surprising fall in online sales as a proportion of all retailing. But given that recent IMRG figures revealed a 16.4 per cent year-on-year increase in ecommerce sales during the month, we can conclude that the bulk of online spend will have been towards the end of the month.

'The Black Friday promotions have also proved a bit of a headache for the ONS statisticians when it comes to trying to seasonally adjust the figures. They have recognised that stores that typically run Black Friday discount offers are more affected by a loss of spending in the lead-up to the day itself. These include retailers selling electrical and tech products, alcohol and watches and jewellery among others. 

'What we are seeing in the market is that retailers now fall into two camps. While the tills are ringing for the premium and budget brands, the mid-market players continue to struggle. 

'It will be interesting to see if the election result and the much-vaunted 'Boris bounce' translates into increased retail spending. With the political deadlock broken, employment levels at record highs and wages rising, shoppers may be tempted back to the shops to take advantage of deep discounts. And with the new promise of a business rate cut for smaller high street stores, there may be some reason for cautious optimism among beleaguered retailers.'