UK retailers suffer worst September in 24 years

Published on: 8th October 2019

Online non-food sales growth the lowest on record, though compared favourably to decline at brick and mortar stores.

The latest sales figures from the British Retail Consortium were released yesterday, hours earlier than planned. The figures show that UK retailers have suffered their worst September in at least 24 years, as the threat of a no-deal Brexit looms. Experts predict that extensive promotional activity will be necessary to clear surplus stock levels.

The BRC found that total retail sales decreased by 1.3% YoY in September, making it the worst September since the BRC’s records began in 1995. The average monthly retail sales growth slumped to a new all-time low of +0.2% over the last year, and like-for-like retail sales shrank by 1.7%, the lowest 12-month average since August 2009. Over the three months to September, instore sales of non-food items fell 3.2% on both a total and like-for-like basis. This is worse than the 12-month total average decline of 2.9%.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC, says Brexit uncertainty and the unusually warm summer both hurt retailers: “With the spectre of a no-deal weighing increasingly on consumer purchasing decisions, it is no surprise that sales growth has once again fallen into the red. Many consumers held off from non-essential purchases, or shopped around for the bigger discounts. The longer-term prospect continues to be bleak, with the 12-month average once again plumbing new depths at a mere 0.2%. Online non-food sales growth was the lowest on record, though still compared favourably to the decline in growth at physical stores.”

Speaking further about the effect of Brexit on the retail market, Helen continued: “With four months of negative sales growth since March, the ongoing political gridlock surrounding Brexit is harming both consumers and retailers. Clarity is needed over our future trading relationship with our closest neighbours, and it is vitally important that Britain does not leave the EU without a deal.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, commented: “Ongoing Brexit uncertainty is clearly having a material impact on the consumer psyche, with all but one non-food category being in decline in September. We will likely experience increased promotional activity to clear surplus stock, which doesn’t bode well for retailers desperately trying to make up for lost ground after several difficult months.”


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