Shocking end to Golden Quarter as retail sales plummet

19 January 2024

The latest ONS figures show retail sales volumes decreased by 3.2% in December, driven by department stores (down 7.1%), food (down 3.1%) and household goods (down 3.0%). 

Jacqui Baker, head of retail at RSM UK and chair of ICAEW’s Retail Group, comments: ‘After a slight uptick in November, we’ve seen the biggest fall this year in December, marking a shocking end to the Golden Quarter. Black Friday tempted some consumers to bring forward their spending to November, but ongoing cost-of-living pressures meant most households cut back across all retail categories. This meant retailers were forced to prolong their heavy discounting into December to shift stock which will have been a big hit to margins. 

‘Last year was a challenge for retailers and sadly this looks set to continue into 2024. Despite consumer confidence increasing and real wages rising, inflation had a slight setback in December showing just how fragile the economy is. As a whole, things are slowly improving but consumers probably won’t start to feel like they have more money in their pocket until the summer. After a challenging year, another six months of tough trading could be too long for some retailers.

‘To compound the problem and hit retailers when they’re down, disruption from events in the Red Sea, and the possibility of cost increases and supply delays could be another headwind they have to navigate this year. This could be particularly damaging for fast fashion that relies on speed to deliver the latest trends at the right price.’