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Headline retail sales growth fastest in 18 months, but some sub-sectors continue to struggle

UK retail sales volumes grew at the fastest rate since April in the year to September, according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey. Grocers were the primary driver of the expansion, with the overwhelming majority reporting rising sales volumes.

The survey – of 123 companies, including 56 retailers – also revealed that, on average, retail sales were seen as 8% lower than would have been expected in ‘normal’ conditions without a pandemic. But beneath that number, there was a huge diversity of experience. For example, sales of household furniture were 39% higher than normal, DIY & hardware sales were up 20% and groceries were up 10%, while sales of clothing were down 40% and department store sales were down 23%.

Looking ahead to next month, the volume of sales is expected to be broadly stable in the year to October, while on balance firms consider the level of sales will remain average for the time of year.

Ben Jones, CBI Principal Economist, said:

“The latest results suggest that the recovery in retail spending over the summer months has continued into September, which is welcome news, but retailers appear cautious over the near-term outlook.

“The data highlights that there have been clear winners and losers within the retail sector as spending habits have changed. While some sub-sectors are thriving, others are still facing desperately difficult times.

“With social distancing measures tightening again, those working in the hardest-hit sectors will be fearing the worst. It’s clear that targeted support measures will be needed to ensure that viable businesses can emerge intact on the other side of this crisis.”

Other survey results showed a slowdown in internet sales growth to below the long-run average, with growth expected to ease further next month. Orders placed upon suppliers fell for the 11th consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace than in August, and are expected to fall again next month.

Meanwhile, wholesalers reported their sixth consecutive month of declining sales volumes, and at a sharper pace than last month. Motor traders, however, reported their third consecutive month of sales growth, although this was slower than in the year to August.

Key findings Figures are balance statistics unless otherwise stated.


  • Retail sales volumes grew at the fastest rate on the year since April 2019 (balance of +11% from -6%). Sales are expected to remain flat in October (0%).
  • Annual internet sales growth slowed to below the long-run average (balance of +35%from +46%). Growth is expected to ease a little further next month (+31%).
  • Sales were seen as slightly above average for the time of year for the first time since November (balance of +4%, from -6%) and are expected to be average for the time of year in October (0%).
  • Orders placed with suppliers fell for the 11th consecutive month (balance of -14%, from -27%) and are expected to fall again in the year to October (-3%).
  • Stock levels relative to expected sales fell to their lowest balance since March (balance of +11%, from +19%) and are expected to ease further next month (+2%).


  • Wholesalers reported the sixth consecutive month of significantly sharp declines in annual sales volumes (balance of -41%, from -30%), with a similar pace of decline expected in the year to October (-41%).

Motor trades

  • Motor traders saw annual sales grow for the third consecutive month (balance of +24%, from +32%), but expect volumes to fall marginally next month (-5%).


Original article link: https://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/articles/cbi-releases-september-dts-report/

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