Halloween sales boom, but UK retail falls flat

U.K. retail sales were flat in October when compared with like-for-like sales the same time a year ago, as unseasonably warm weather hit fashion retailers and food sales continued to plummet.

After two months of balmy fall weather, fashion retailers are still sitting on relatively high levels of winter stock, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and professional services firm KPMG.

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Walt Disney characters Anna and Elsa at the premiere of Frozen.
Getty Images
Walt Disney characters Anna and Elsa at the premiere of Frozen.

U.K. retail sales were unchanged last month on a like-for-like basis from October 2013, when they increased 0.8 percent on the preceding year. The figures showed consumers were still prioritising household items over fashion, with furniture outperforming all other categories for a second month in a row.

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"Sadly, this warmer weather has left many fashion retailers with a substantial stock overhang, raising the question of earlier and deeper discounts as we get closer to Christmas. Retailers need a nippy November to help them sell their winter stock before the season's out," head of retail at KPMG, David McCorquodale said in a news release on Tuesday.

Food sales fell by 0.4 percent on a 12-month basis, and by 1.4 percent on the previous three months, figures from BRC and KPMG showed.

"Promotions remained rife in the grocery sector, leaving it with the unenviable moniker of the worst performing sector," McCorquodale said.

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The exception to the poor showing for clothing was Halloween costumes. Retailers posted a strong end to the October, as costumes of characters from hit children's films such as "Frozen" resulted in a significant year-on-year increase in Halloween-related sales, data showed.

"Looking at these figures, most retailers will feel they were tricked rather than treated in October. Even the most experienced of shopkeepers could not have foreseen a heat wave at Halloween and most were left with sales which were flat at best," McCorquodale added.