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BRC reports ‘staggering’ fall in retail sales

Published:  04 June, 2019

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has recorded the biggest sales decline on record and warned the issues facing UK high streets require “urgent attention”.

It said total sales in May were down 2.7% on last year, while like for like sales were down 3%, the worst performance since it started recording the data.

“With the biggest decline in retail sales on record, the risk of further job losses and store closures will only increase,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson. “While May 2018 offered almost unbroken sunshine, topped off by the run up to the World Cup and the marriage of Meghan and Harry, May 2019 delivered political and economic uncertainty. Food sales dropped for the first time since June 2016, with further declines in clothing, footwear and outdoor goods.”

Dickinson called on the government to take action, saying with retail conditions the “toughest they have been for a decade, politicians must act to support the successful reinvention of our high streets and local communities. Business rates remain a barrier, preventing many retailers from investing in their physical space. We have a broken tax system, which sees retailers paying vast sums of money regardless of whether they make a penny at the till, and yet the government is failing to act. The legislation is falling behind the technological revolution.”

Paul Martin, UK retail partner at KPMG, said April “may have provided retailers with some light reprieve thanks to Easter, but May’s staggering fall of 3% like-for-like is a stark reminder of the industry’s ongoing issues, which for many require urgent attention.

“We are of course comparing this month’s growth against a stellar May in 2018, but even the three-month average - which softens the monthly volatility - demonstrates that achieving growth in retail remains a real struggle.

“The bank holiday weekends have given rise to the added interest in furniture and homewares, as shoppers set about making home improvements. However, the weather did little to convince fashion-minded shoppers to refresh their seasonal wardrobes.

“The extremely low growth online is real cause for concern, especially with almost a third of all non-food sales today being made online. This trend has continued to manifest itself over the last year and requires real focus from the retail community.”

Susan Barratt, chief executive at IGD, said the “food and grocery sector will be disappointed by figures for May that ended a good run of underlying growth".

The numbers exclude Easter distortions caused by Easter falling in different months in subsequent years.