Fashion struggled in bleak November, but small treats scored - Visa

UK consumer spending declined for the third month running in November, Visa said Monday, which wasn’t really a surprise. But there was more bad news, with the payment card specialist also saying 2017 is on track for “the worst consumer spending performance in five years.” Ouch.

UK fashion stores should look back on 2017 as a low point, a new report from Visa says

Compiled by Markit, Visa’s Index looks at overall consumer spending, not just that on cards, and there was little in it to put a smile on any retailer’s face, especially a fashion retailer.

So what did we learn? Household expenditure fell 0.9% year-on-year (admittedly not as bad as the 2.1% drop in October). Spending at physical stores fell a worse 3.5% “as Black Friday spend moved further online” and most sectors saw lower expenditure. Yet even the increased online spend only delivered a 2.4% there. 

Overall clothing and footwear sales fell 2.1%, with Visa’s figures just the latest in a string of such reports showing bleak times on the high street last month for fashion stores. Admittedly, the performance wasn’t as bad as October’s 8.9% drop. But it should have better. It came in a month when Black Friday should have spurred greater interest, when the weather turned cold (which would have boosted winter clothing in normal circumstances), and when the Christmas shopping season should also have bolstered consumer spending. The fact that none of those effects were enough to drive fashion into the plus column was worrying.

But at least “Miscellaneous Goods & Services”, the catch-all category that includes products as diverse as cosmetics and jewellery, remained a bright spot with a 4.9% rise.

Visa’s Mark Antipof said: “Festive cheer was in short supply for the UK’s retailers as Black Friday promotions failed to lift consumer spending. November’s poor performance means that we stand by our earlier prediction that the UK will see its first fall in overall Christmas spending by consumers since 2012.”

And he also highlighted a trend that’s seeing big-ticket item cut-backs but a move towards smaller treats.  “It would appear that consumers are making further changes to their shopping priorities as a result of the increasing strain on household budgets,” he explained. “Cutbacks on big-ticket items such as car purchases and bookings for Christmas trips abroad led to the largest drop in spending on Transport & Communications in November. In contrast, spending on Miscellaneous Goods, which includes trips to hair and beauty salons and cosmetics and jewellery purchases saw the largest increase, offering further evidence of the ‘lipstick effect’, whereby people opt for smaller treats, at the same time tightening their belts when it comes to larger purchases.”

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