News | Published January 09 2020

Annual retail sales down for first time in quarter of a century, BRC says

The British Retail Consortium has revealed that retail sales have fallen for the first time since 1995 after a 0.1 per cent decline in total sales.

This was exacerbated by weak sales in November and December of 2019, falling by 0.9 per cent during the period.

Like-for-like retail sales did increase over December, which the BRC credits to a late Black Friday. When factoring in November's statistics, like-for-like sales declined by 1.2 per cent on 2018.

Barclaycard said in a separate report that consumer spending growth had also fallen once inflation was factored in. The payment firm also revealed that supermarket sales declined by 0.9 per cent in December, alongside a four per cent fall in sales at specialist retail stores.

The woes of the high street are mainly fuelled by rising costs such as business rates, rent and wage outlay, worsened by falling footfall. The shift toward online shopping has only put retailers under further strain.

Despite the drop in total sales in 2019, the volume of sales remained higher than in 2017. Cinema sales also increased by 19 per cent, while spending in takeaways and pubs over the festive period enjoyed a boost.

Addressing the figures, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "Twice the UK faced the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, as well as political instability that concluded in a December general election - further weakening demand for the festive period.

"Retailers also faced challenges as consumers became both more cautious and more conscientious as they went about their Christmas shopping."

Notably, the figures do exclude some large online retailers such as Amazon, but Dickinson believes nonetheless that the figures do provide an “accurate picture” of the retail sector.

She told the BBC: "These figures are not an estimate, they are full sales data from retailers that represent the majority of retail sales.

"While it is not 100 per cent of retailers in the country, some businesses that aren't included will also be compensated by those that have gone bust."

Some of the high street retailers to have entered administration in 2019 include Mothercare UK, Bonmarche and Links of London, while HMV and Debenhams were forced to announce numerous closures.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
January 09 2020

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