Who is buying what? Why CSO’s retail data needs to be updated

Cantillon: Retail numbers dominated by car sales and don’t capture all online spending

Shoppers in Dublin city centre. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Shoppers in Dublin city centre. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

There’s an assumption that everybody rushes around shopping in the build-up to Christmas, so if there’s a monthly decline in retail sales in December there must be something wrong, some sort of squeeze on consumer spending. It’s more complex than that, however.

The latest monthly figures show retail sales fell by 0.4 per cent in December. But the headline number was anchored by car sales, which are always weak in December as consumers wait for the new licence plates in January.

If volatile car sales are excluded, the figures show there a monthly increase of 0.7 per cent.

Also the “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” sales towards the end of November encourage shoppers to do their Christmas shopping early and to avail of “bargains”, especially electrical items, which has spread out the traditional Christmas shop. Some shoppers might also have gone north of the Border to do their Christmas buying to take advantage of the Brexit-related weakness in sterling.

Whatever the cause, the December sales were up 3.7 per cent on last year, nursed along by the growth in employment and wages, which is probably a better reading of the underlying trend.

An ongoing problem with the traditional retail sale measures, however, is that they are failing to capture the totality of the online spend, which is becoming a bigger part of the whole.

The numbers compiled by the Central Statistics Office exclude online sales by companies that deal exclusively online, but include sales that are done online at shops that also have a bricks-and-mortar outlet.

“So if you buy something online from Eason or Arnotts, that would be included in the sales for that outlet,” Alan McQuaid of Cantor Fitzgerald explained.

A bit like the figures for house completions, the retail data needs to be updated to reflect the impact of digital sales.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.