ONS retail sales figures show more growth as holiday season shapes up to be “make or break” period


Retail sales volumes in September increased by 1.5% when compared with August, resulting in the fifth consecutive month of growth and an increase of 5.5% when compared with February’s pre-pandemic level.

In the three months to September, retail sales volumes increased by 17.4% when compared with the previous three months which is the biggest quarterly increase on record as sales picked up from record-low levels experienced earlier in the year.

The proportion of online sales was at 27.5%, compared with 20.1% reported in February, despite small monthly declines across most of the retail sector.


However, despite picking up pace in recent months, high-street stores remain under intense pressure as consumers continue to flock online in great numbers.

E-commerce sales are a huge 46.8% higher than February’s pre-pandemic level – a trend only set to continue amid reinforced lockdowns and safety concerns, and with e-tailers offering extended sales events to drive a ‘Merry Clickmas’.

With more than 11,000 stores closing in the first half of 2020, over twice as many net closures compared to the same period last year, and around 73% of UK consumers intending to purchase their Christmas shopping online (with 54% planning to purchase on their mobile) – only the most agile, digitally savvy businesses will survive meaning the holiday season will be make or break for many retailers.

Stephanie Millner, vice president of CX Management at Teleperformance, commented: “While it is true e-commerce demand is at an all-time high – so is competition. It’s a retail race – a fight for attention in an era of brand promiscuity. Simply put, consumers across the spectrum want shortcuts and more value for their money.

“With purchasing behaviours transforming rapidly, the challenge for retailers to effectively foster long-term loyalty is being across the right customer service channels. Retailers need to question why some channels may be relevant for their business and customer base, depending on their sector, brand personality, mission, values, customer preferences, and typical queries.”

She added: “Customers also notoriously bounce from channel to channel depending on the scenario – therefore choice is key. The trick is to remove friction and provide value add experiences wherever possible. Ask the right questions in order to maximize engagement, and focus the dialogue on possible future queries, or what they enjoyed about the experience. Inform shoppers on the full functions of each channel, and crucially, make it simple.

“Maintaining support, particularly during a pandemic, will also prove critical for retailers this festive season. Keeping customer service channels up and running with lockdowns in place can be challenging, but consumers are far more likely to need care, particularly with dependence on e-commerce increasing.”

Concluding: “While the sector is heavily relying on digital channels to keep afloat in the current environment, the best brands will blend high-tech with high-touch – creating emotional and personalized experiences at scale.”


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