LONDON (Reuters) -British retail sales rose more strongly than expected last month, helped by Black Friday discounts, early Christmas shopping and an absence of lockdown restrictions that closed many stores a year earlier, official figures showed on Friday.
Retail sales rose by 1.4% in November and were 4.7% higher than a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics said.
Economists polled by Reuters had on average forecast that sales volumes would rise by 0.8% on the month and be 4.2% higher than in November 2020.
“Retail sales picked up in November, boosted by strong Black Friday and pre-Christmas trading. Clothing stores fared particularly well and have exceeded their pre-pandemic level for the first time,” ONS statistician Heather Bovill said.
British retail sales rebounded rapidly after a slump at the start of the pandemic in 2020, but had drifted lower since a peak in April as easing COVID-19 restrictions gave consumers a wider range of spending options.
Friday’s figures pre-date the spread of the Omicron variant in Britain, which the Bank of England warned on Thursday could lead to a rebound of demand for consumer goods – some of which are in short supply due to supply-chain difficulties.
Previously released data from the British Retail Consortium showed a 5% rise in retail spending last month as shoppers snapped up Black Friday discounts – many of which were offered earlier in the month than in previous years.
Trade bodies also had reports of people shopping earlier than usual for Christmas due to COVID concerns.
The pandemic led to a big shift towards online shopping which has only partly reversed and accounted for 26% of spending last month. Some sectors such as fashion also suffered as people were less likely to go out.
But concern over the impact of Omicron on Christmas trading has increased this week. Consumer electricals retailer Currys said its market had softened in recent weeks, online fashion retailer Boohoo warned on annual profit, and data has indicated fewer shoppers on Britain’s high streets.
(Reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce; editing by Michael Holden)