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Retail sales at 19-month low as Christmas shoppers leave it late | Business

High street sales slumped in November in the weakest period for consumer spending for more than a year, as shoppers reined in their spending in the run-up to Christmas.

The Office for National Statistics said retail sales across Britain fell by 0.6% when compared with the previous month, with only household goods stores reporting growth.

In a sign of the stress facing retailers, the quantity of goods bought dropped by 0.4% in the three months to November compared with the previous three months, the first decline since April 2018. Annual growth in sales also slowed to 1%, mainly because of a slump in spending in non-food stores.

The latest figures from the high street and online suggest heavy discounting around Black Friday failed to tempt consumers to part with their cash in one of the worst periods for retailers in recent decades.

Analysts said unsettled weather, political and economic uncertainty over Brexit and the snap election, and consumers leaving their shopping to the last minute in hope of bigger discounts, all had an impact last month.

November was the fourth month without growth in retail spending – the longest stretch since the mid-90s.

The ONS said Black Friday was not included in the figures, as the US-inspired day of shopping discounts fell late in the month, on 29 November. It said its seasonally adjusted estimates accounted for this shift in timing. However, analysts said the timing of Black Friday could have had an impact and probably distorted November’s spending figures.

The ONS said Black Friday spending patterns would probably influence its December release, with only early promotions captured in the November estimates.

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Duncan Brewer, a retail partner at the consultancy Oliver Wyman, said political uncertainty had lifted since the election and unemployment remained low, in a positive signal for consumer spending.

However, he warned that at least two high street shopping chains were likely to go bust next year and about 100,000 jobs were likely to be cut across the sector.

He said: “The slump in retail sales over November goes to show that despite the momentous shopping holiday of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, discounting periods are not an effective way of getting people into the shops.”

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