Retail to stabilise as restrictions ease, says CBI

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has suggested that retail sales are set to stabilise as lockdown restrictions begin to ease. 

Although retail sales volumes fell in the year to November, overall retail sales volumes fell at a similar pace to the previous month, according to the latest CBI quarterly Distributive Trades Survey.

The survey of 114 firms, of which 57 were retailers, found that sales during the four-week lockdown were only down by 25% against last month’s 23% decline. 

Online sales rose at the fastest pace in two years, suggesting a shift towards in-store retailing during the month-long lockdown in England, which is set to end next week. 

The overall level of sales was seen as “below average” for the time of year to the greatest degree since June. Looking ahead, however, the CBI expects sales volumes to be broadly flat in the year to December.

Meanwhile, it found that employment fell further in the year to November, but the rate of decline eased compared with August, with declines of 32% and 45%, respectively. A similar rate of decline is expected in the year to December. 

Overall, retailers’ sentiment about the general business situation over the next three months deteriorated, however, following a slight improvement in August.

Ben Jones, CBI principal economist, said: “This month’s survey gives hope that the economic impact of the Autumn lockdowns should not be as severe as in the Spring. Both consumers and firms are adapting as best they can, borne out in this month’s strong online sales.

“For many retail sectors, particularly those with less of an online presence, conditions remain extremely challenging. Retailers will be looking to salvage what they can from a very difficult year and many will be greatly relieved by the announcement that they can re-open over the crucial Christmas trading period.”

He added: “With encouraging progress on mass, rapid testing and vaccine solutions coming down the track, there is reason for growing consumer and business confidence going into 2021.”

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