UK retail sales plummet from record high to record low

Fuelled by a number of contributing factors, retail sales in the UK have dropped faster than in any time over the past 23 years, according to the British Retail Consortium

UK retail sales plummet from record high to record low

As a sector that’s forever changing with the advent of technological advancements, retailers stand to benefit from change. But the long-standing retail industry is now facing concerning statistics that have triggered alarm bells.

Total UK retail sales fell 3.1% in April 2018, according to British Retail Consortium (BRC), the trade body for the retail sector – a stark contrast from a 6.3% increase in April 2017. Although the BRC claims figures were skewed by the timing of Easter this year, the fact remains this is the steepest drop in sales since records started 23 years ago in 1995.

Even online shopping, long considered an antagonist to the high street, failed to hit the spot. Non-food online sales rose 6.7% in April 2018, below the 10.3% growth in April 2017. The result was also under the three-month and 12-month averages of 7.1% and 7.5% respectively, though online penetration hit 22% in April 2018, up year-on-year from 20.8%.

Commenting on the findings, Helen Dickinson, chief executive at BRC, said that the results were always likely to be low with half of the Easter bank holiday weekend taking place in March. “However, even once we take account of these seasonal distortions, the underlying trend in sales growth is heading downwards,” she said. “The first glimpse of summer may have temporarily lifted clothing and footwear but non-food sales overall continue to be weak. Consumers’ discretionary spending power remains under pressure and the reality is, that with only a gradual return to solid growth in real incomes expected, the market environment is likely to remain extremely challenging for most retailers.”

Dickinson went on to note the retail industry’s challenges are there for everyone to witness on the high streets but insisted the reactions from retailers that are investing in tech and staff training to bring them up to speed on digital are making the right moves. 

There is additional positivity in store for retailers as Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG, the professional services firm, added: The upcoming months will provide a number of opportunities for retailers to drive sales and navigate this assault course, including bank holidays, World Cup and of course the Royal wedding, although it is clear that trading will remain challenging.”

Although some retailers should have taken the necessary steps long ago, it’s encouraging that their heads are no longer buried in the sand.

Zen Terrelonge
Zen Terrelonge

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