Growth slowed for independent retailers in the third quarter of 2015, even as they recorded their fifth straight quarter of positive trading, according to the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA).
More shops reported increased turnover than in any period since the survey by BIRA began – but the average increases they reported were the lowest across the same period. As a result reported sales growth fell back to its lowest level this year, to 1.33%, from 2.35% in the mid-year period. Six out of ten shops grew turnover, while four out of ten lost out.
According to the report, Scotland and Wales led the way on growth, followed closely by the Midlands and East Anglie.
Furniture, floorcoverings and beds once again headed the success stakes as this sector logged its fifth straight three-month period of rising sales and stood out well ahead of any other product sector.
Department stores stayed in growth, joined this time by clothing and footwear as well as giftware.
As a result of this better spread of weaker growth, confidence levels among independents rose as anxiety fell. The latter, at one in four of members, is the best result since the crash.
Nevertheless more than half of respondents still predict that the result of the National Living Wage will be to reduce the numbers of jobs that they sustain, or the hours that they offer, by the time it breaches £9 an hour in 2020. Four years’ worth of compound 6% increases will build pressure consistently on costs – so sales growth will need to far exceed these levels if retailers are to avoid cutting staff numbers or hours. Closer to hand, if the Chancellor does not renew the current temporary discounts, lower rates and exemptions on business rates in the Autumn Statement on November 25, small shops will suffer huge increases in costs as early as April next year.
The balance of opinion on devolving powers to extend Sunday trading to local authorities was clear – seven out of ten oppose the proposal.