Retail sales, Great Britain: November 2020

A first estimate of retail sales in volume and value terms, seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted.

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Release date:
18 December 2020

Next release:
22 January 2021

1. Main points

  • In November 2020, retail sales volumes decreased by 3.8% when compared with October as many stores ceased trading following government guidance during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Despite the monthly fall, overall sales remain above their pre-pandemic levels.

  • In November 2020, clothing store sales saw a sharp fall in sale volumes when compared with the previous month, at negative 19.0%, as did fuel sales, which decreased by 16.6%.

  • In November 2020, food stores at 3.1% and household goods stores at 1.6% were the only sectors to show growth in monthly volume of sales.

  • The year-on-year growth rate in the volume of retail sales increased by 2.4%, with feedback from businesses suggesting that consumers had brought forward Christmas spending.

  • Online retailing accounted for 31.4% of total retailing compared with 28.6% in October 2020, with an overall growth of 74.7% in the value of sales when compared with November 2019.

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2. Retail sales in November

Table 1 provides a snapshot of what is happening in the retail sales industry in November 2020, with both value and volume growth rates.

All measures in the total retail sales industry saw an increase in November 2020 except the month-on-month measures. The monthly growth rate for value sales was negative 4.1% and for volume sales negative 3.8%. This ended six consecutive months of growth within the retail sector.

November showed a strong rate of decline following a period of recovery in the aftermath of the initial coronavirus (COVID-19) impact. The reporting period for the November publication covers 1 November to 28 November during which time there were differing restrictions on non-essential retail in each of the regions of the UK. Feedback from retailers stated that these enforced store closures affected turnover despite an increase in online sales during the period.

Restriction announcements for each nation can be found here:

  1. England
  2. Scotland
  3. Wales

In contrast, when compared with a year earlier, both the amount spent and quantity bought reported growth in November 2020, of 1.0% and 2.4% respectively. Non-store volume sales reported the largest year-on-year growth at 42.4%, while food stores also reported a large year-on-year increase of 7.1%.

In the three months to November, both value and volume sales increased by 3.0% when compared with the previous three months.

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3. A closer look at retail sectors

Figure 2: Household goods stores continued to see sales above February levels whilst “other” stores saw sales decline below pre-lockdown levels in November 2020

Volume sales, seasonally adjusted, Great Britain, February 2020 to November 2020

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  1. Chart shows the March to November sales as a proportion of February 2020 where February sales equals 100%

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Figure 2 shows the volume of sales for each retail sector from February 2020’s pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown level.

Non-store (retailers with no physical store presence)

Non-store retailing has showed strength over the course of the pandemic despite a reduction in sales this month. The decline in November 2020 can be attributed to earlier large promotions in October, which significantly increased sales in the sector. Despite this decline, volume sales within non-store retailing remained 42.0% higher than February.

Household goods stores

Household goods stores continued to see sales volumes grow in November (1.6%) and are now 15.2% higher than in February 2020. Sales in hardware, paints and glass stores were the main contributor to the monthly growth in November at 16.6%. Feedback from retailers suggested earlier purchases of Christmas products and home DIY goods in preparation for the festive season had boosted turnover.

Food stores

Food stores saw sales volumes grow by 3.1% in November when compared with October 2020 and are now 6.8% higher than February 2020 levels. Anecdotal evidence from retailers suggested that food sales have been boosted in November by the restrictions to the hospitality industry and a shift in consumer habits, with an increase in “click and collect” users boosting sales in the sector.

“Other” non-food stores

“Other” non-food stores, (which includes opticians, chemists, books, games, and jewellery stores) had reported volume sales above February levels for four consecutive months. However, a monthly fall of 10.1% in November saw sales fall below February’s level and they are now 1.4% lower than February levels.

Carpet and floor covering retailers reported the largest monthly fall of 46.1% in November, while books and newspaper retailers also saw a sharp decline of 40.3%, with feedback from both sectors reporting that store closures had affected turnover.

Clothing stores

Clothing retailers reported the sharpest decline in sales volumes in November with a monthly fall of 19.0%. Retailers commented that despite extensive online Black Friday promotions, the enforced closure of stores had affected sales. The sector has struggled to recover from the initial declines witnessed immediately after the first set of national lockdown measures, and remains 30.5% below February’s level.

Fuel stores

Fuel stores reported a large decline in volume sales in November with a monthly fall of 16.6%. Anecdotal evidence suggested that lockdown measures had again affected the number of journeys taken by consumers and had an impact on sales. Fuel retailers continue to see sales well below pre-lockdown levels, falling 23.8% below where they were in February 2020.

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4. Focus on the effect of non-essential retail closures

We look at the businesses common between the Retail Sales Inquiry and the Business Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Survey (BICS) during the two weeks from 16 November to 29 November.

Figure 3 shows the businesses within all retail sectors that were able to continue to trade, despite the enforced closure of non-essential retail stores. 86.9% of businesses stated they were currently trading and had been for more than the last two weeks, suggesting that despite store closures, many were able to continue to trade online. Within department stores, 68.8% stated they had been trading for more than the last two weeks – the lowest percentage within the retail sector.

The closure of non-essential retailers resulted in a movement to online spending during this period (Figure 4).

Total retail sales excluding fuel displayed a switch to online sales with the amount spent in stores falling by 6.7%. The amount spent online increased by 6.3% in November when compared with October 2020.

Food stores, whose physical stores were exempt from the national retail restrictions, reported monthly increases in value sales for both in-store and online sales, at 2.9% and 1.5% respectively. Anecdotal evidence from retailers suggested that food sales have been boosted in November by the restrictions to the hospitality industry and a shift in consumer habits with an increase in “click and collect” users boosting sales in the sector.

Clothing retailers saw the largest fall in in-store sales with a monthly fall of 33.0%, with only a modest uptake in online sales at 7.9% (Figure 4).

Figure 5 shows that fuel retailers were the only sector where no respondents reported an increase in turnover during the two weeks 16 November to 29 November. Non-store retailers had the largest proportion of businesses reporting increased sales during the period at 41.2%.

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5. Black Friday

Looking at the spending patterns over time shows increased spending in the retail industry in the run up to Christmas. Figure 6 shows spending in the retail industry from 2013 when Black Friday first became established in the UK.

The timing of Black Friday varies from year to year as do the length of promotional events held by retailers.

In 2020, the official Black Friday was on 27 November, falling within our November period, which covers four weeks from 1 November to 28 November. However, Black Friday fell outside our November reporting period in 2019 and was included in the December reporting period.

We regularly review our seasonal adjustment approach to ensure we capture any changes in spending owing to seasonal activity. We estimate and remove seasonally related spending so we can show the underlying changes in the economy.

In recent years, Black Friday has become a regular occurrence, and for some series there is evidence of a changed seasonal pattern. As this pattern is emerging for some series, it is important to review our seasonal adjustment as new data potentially affected by Black Friday become available. We have therefore carried out a dynamic seasonal adjustment review this month to assess whether our usual adjustment method accurately captures this change in activity.

Store sectors where the timing of Black Friday was statistically significant in November 2020, owing to the shift in timing related to Black Friday, are:

  • electrical household appliances
  • mail order houses (including internet retailers)
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6. Online retail

Table 3 shows the month-on-month and year-on-year growth rates for the amount spent online, in addition to the proportion of online sales. The percentage weights indicate where money is spent online.

In November 2020, we saw strong growth in value sales across all sectors when compared with the same month a year earlier. Online department store sales increased by 157.2% while household goods stores and “other” non-food stores also saw sales rise by 124.7% each. National measures during November meant physical non-essential stores were closed causing a shift to online purchasing; during this reporting period there were also extensive online Black Friday promotions.

All sectors, except non-store retailing, saw an increase in online sales on the month with department stores reporting the largest growth of 24.7%. Feedback from retailers suggests that as well as the impact of physical store closures, there was also evidence that consumers began buying Christmas gifts earlier this year and that promotional activities had increased sales.

The proportion of online sales increased to 31.4% compared with the 28.6% reported in October, however this is still lower than the peak witnessed during the first wave of the pandemic in May 2020 when the proportion of online sales reached 33.9%.

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7. Retail sales data

Retail Sales Index
Dataset | Released 18 December 2020
A series of retail sales data for Great Britain in value and volume terms, seasonally and non-seasonally adjusted.

Retail sales pounds data
Dataset | Released 18 December 2020
Total sales and average weekly spending estimates for each retail sector in Great Britain in £ thousands.

Retail Sales Index internet sales
Dataset | Released 18 December 2020
Internet sales in Great Britain by store type, month and year.

Retail Sales Index categories and their percentage weights
Dataset | Released 18 December 2020
Retail sales categories and descriptions and their percentage of all retailing in Great Britain.

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8. Glossary

Value (amount spent)

The value estimates reflect the total turnover that businesses have collected over a standard period.

Volume (quantity bought)

The volume estimates are calculated by taking the value estimates and adjusting to remove the impact of price changes.

Seasonally adjusted

Seasonally adjusted estimates are derived by estimating and removing calendar effects (for example, Easter moving between March and April) and seasonal effects (for example, increased spending in December as a result of Christmas) from the non-seasonally adjusted (NSA) estimates.

Non-seasonally adjusted

Non-seasonally adjusted estimates refer to raw data where the effects of regular or seasonal patterns have not been removed.

Non-store retailing

Non-store retailing refers to retailers that do not have a store presence. While the majority is made up of online retailers, it also includes other retailers such as stalls and markets.

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9. Measuring the data

This bulletin presents estimates of the quantity bought (volume) and amount spent (value) in the retail industry for the four-week period 1 November 2020 to 28 November 2020.

Unless otherwise stated, the estimates in this release are seasonally adjusted.

Retail sales collects turnover data from retailers, which is money through the till before any deductions, including refunded items. This provides us with the best indicator for consumer spending during the reference period.

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) measures the value and volume of retail sales in Great Britain on a monthly basis. Data are collected from 5,000 businesses in the retail industry, with all businesses employing over 100 people or with an annual turnover of more than £60 million receiving an online questionnaire every month. The survey’s results are used to produce seasonally adjusted monthly, quarterly and annual estimates of output in the retail industry at current price and at chained volume measures (removing the effect of price changes).


More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in the Retail Sales QMI.

Seasonal adjustment

All seasonal adjustment parameters for our volume and value data, for all businesses and internet data time series, up to July 2020 have been reviewed. Many series are affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)-related actions in July 2020 and previous months. Each series has been reviewed and the best adjustment for coronavirus-related effects applied. These may need to be revised further as additional data become available.

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10. Strengths and limitations

Uses and users

The Retail Sales Index (RSI) is an important economic indicator and one of the earliest short-term measures of economic activity. It is used in the compilation of the national accounts and widely used by private and public sector institutions, particularly by the Bank of England and HM Treasury to assist in informed decision- and policymaking.

To align with Bluebook National Accounts, the Retail Sales Index will re-reference to the year 2018. This will provide a more recent index reference year for analysis but will not affect growth rates or general movements in the data.

Comparability to international data

The most recent international estimate of retail sales available for November 2020 was published by the US Census Bureau on 16 December 2020. In its advanced monthly sales for retail and food services, November 2020 (PDF, 249KB) they include the amount spent in the US retail industry, including motor vehicles and parts and food services.

Data for Northern Ireland are published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

It should be noted that accurate comparisons cannot be made against these or other international statistics for a variety of reasons, including differences in methodology.

Eurostat also published their latest estimates of the Volume of retail trade (PDF, 510KB) across the EU on 3 December 2020 for October 2020. This shows the seasonally adjusted volume of retail trade in both the euro area (EA19) and EU28 when compared with September 2020.

As the UK leaves the EU, it is important that our statistics continue to be of high quality and are internationally comparable. During the transition period, those UK statistics that align with EU practice and rules will continue to do so in the same way as before 31 January 2020.

After the transition period, we will continue to produce our national accounts statistics in line with the UK Statistics Authority’s (UKSA’s) Code of Practice for Statistics and in accordance with internationally agreed statistical guidance and standards.

The Withdrawal Agreement outlines a need for UK Gross National Income (a fundamental component of the national accounts, which includes gross domestic product (GDP)) statistics to remain in line with those of other EU countries until the EU budgets are finalised for the years in which we were a member. To ensure comparability during this cycle, the national accounts will continue to be produced according to European System of Accounts (ESA) 2010 definitions and standards.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Rhys Dalgleish
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455602