Spending at UK department stores falls for 13th month in a row

Spending at department stores fell for the 13th consecutive month in November, data has shown, as John Lewis revealed a rapid reversal in sales after the Black Friday bonanza.

Barclaycard users’ spending at department stores across the UK slumped 7.1% year on year during the month, according to the credit and debit card provider’s latest monthly data, marking the sector out as one of the hardest-hit.

Sales of home technology, homewares and fashion all fell at John Lewis in the week to 1 December, resulting in a near 6% slide across the chain after a year-on-year 7.7% rise for the previous week, when the company benefited from the US-inspired discount day.

John Lewis blamed continued mild weather for poor sales of coats and knitwear, but its figures also reflect continuing difficulties for department stores in fighting the rise of online alternatives and a general decline in consumer confidence amid continued concerns about Brexit.

“Department stores took a pummelling in November,” said Laura Suter, a personal finance analyst at investment firm AJ Bell. “The problems faced by the likes of House of Fraser and Debenhams, and questions about the stores’ future, have likely put many off shopping with the brands.”

The latest poor figures come after the Sports Direct boss, Mike Ashley, said on Tuesday that it was getting tougher to achieve his aim of rescuing 80% of HoF’s 59 stores. Ashley has called for a punitive tax on online retailers as he said many high streets were “already dead”.

Overall consumer spending rose 3.3% year on year in November, the lowest growth since March, despite the boost from Black Friday, according to Barclaycard.

Clothing spending contracted by 2.9%, the biggest fall since October 2017, while spending on household appliances was down by 14%.

Even discounters, who are widely seen as likely winners as families look for ways to save cash amid economic uncertainty, took a hit, with spending down nearly 17% year on year. However, spending at pubs and restaurants and on entertainment, particularly tickets for concerts, films and shows, was up.

November’s subdued figures reflect the cautious mood on the high street. Consumer confidence dropped by 3 percentage points to -13%, the lowest level this year, according to the long-running survey by research firm GfK.

And on Tuesday, Barclaycard said 52% of UK adults said they had confidence in their household finances – the lowest level recorded since the company began tracking the data in 2015.

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