Jan 27, 2023
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Discounts not enough? CBI cites early signs that January retail has been weak

Jan 27, 2023

Every month sees a variety of retail reports from a variety of organisations and the CBI Distributive Trade Survey is always the first. While that means it can be prone to revisions, it’s also a good early guide to what’s happening at retail.

Photo: Geralt at Pixabay/Public domain

So what did Friday’s CBI survey report show for January? Lower sales volumes as retail got off to a slow start during the month. That's despite the proliferation of big discounts in the key clearance sale month. Sales are expected to decline again next month too, “but at a slightly slower pace”.

The CBI survey was conducted between 22 December and 13 January and spoke to a variety of businesses, including 59 retailers. The figures it quotes are the weighted difference between the percentage of retailers reporting an increase and those reporting a decrease. 

Retailers said they began the year on a disappointing note, reporting that sales volumes fell at a fast pace in the year to January. The balance was -23% from +11% in December. February’s figure is expected to be -15%.

Orders placed with suppliers were also down sharply in the year to January (-32% from -21% in December) and they’re expected to be -19% next month.

There was an issue with stock levels too with retailers saying they viewed stocks in January as elevated relative to expected sales, and to a greater extent than last month (+23% from +16% in December). Stock positions are expected to ease next month, but will remain “too high” (+12%).

Internet sales volumes declined in the year to January, but at a slower pace than last month (-4% from -22% in December). Sales are expected to grow next month (+4%), which is actually the first month with expected sales growth since December 2021.

Elsewhere in the distribution sector, wholesale sales volumes fell in the year to January (-18% from -14% in December) and are expected to decline at an accelerated rate next month (-22%).

Martin Sartorius, Principal Economist at the CBI, said: “Retailers began the New Year with a return to falling sales volumes, as the sector continues to face the twin headwinds of rising costs and squeezed household incomes.

“With consumer spending expected to fall throughout 2023, it’s important that the Government addresses the structural problems holding back retailers. Reforming business rates and the Apprenticeship Levy would unlock much-needed investment and help the UK avoid getting stuck in a rut on growth.”

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