There has been a debate over the past couple of years that has seemed mind-bogglingly simple to unpick. On the one hand, some retail analysts have predicted the end of November sales are just there to get early shopping done and the numbers will pick up again in December. The other argument is more sensible: this is nonsense and people will simply get Christmas done early, hide presents and keep the credit card for the food purchases that obviously can't be made a month before the big day.
Now we have the figures from the ONS to underscore that the common-sense argument is the correct one. The fourth quarter was good for retail, with sales up. December, for example, was up 4.3% on the corresponding month in 2015. However, it's worth noting that it saw a 1.9% dip from November, the month before. Look at online sales and the figures are clear. December 2016 was up more than a fifth against December 2015, but there was a 5% dip in sales from the month before -- November 2016. So as we went from November to December in 2016, total sales were down, and that dip was exacerbated online.
If you want the killer stat, compare sales figures for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday week (22nd to 28th November) and you'll see order values were up 28% on the Christmas week of December 21st to 27th (which would obviously have taken in both last-minute shopping and the Boxing Day sales).
It really doesn't take a genius to figure it out, does it? Black Friday and Cyber Monday have changed shopper behaviour. People don't suddenly need more stuff. Everyone usually has a rough mental budget of what they are spending per person, and they are more than happy to let that figure go a little further a month before Christmas by seeking out a late November deal.
A lot is being written about these figures showing that we are increasingly shopping online, particularly mobile, but that's a continuation of what we already know. It's a trend that has been noticeable for a while now. The real importance to me is that these figures show we have changed the way we shop and retailers and their marketing teams will have to accept it. There is no late recovery once the bargains have been snapped up in November. It was a pipe dream that hasn't panned out. People buy in the sales a month early and congratulate themselves on having "done" Christmas.