Retail expert predict a fresh wave of store closures and job losses as the latest retail sales figures show the biggest decline on record.
For the four weeks covering April 28 – May 25, sales plunged by 2.7% on a total basis. Excluding Easter distortions, this is the worst decline since this record began in January 1995. However, this was against an increase of 4.1% in May 2018, itself a four-year record.
This decline drags the 3-month and 12-month average increases down to 0.2% and 0.9% respectively.
UK retail sales decreased by 3.0% on a like-for-like basis from May 2018, when they had increased 2.8% from the preceding year. This was the steepest like-for-like decline since December 2008, excluding Easter distortions, and is a stark reminder of the struggles jewellery retailers face on the British high street.
British Retail Consortium chief executive, Helen Dickinson, comments: “With the biggest decline in retail sales on record, the risk of further job losses and store closures will only increase. 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.
“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.”
Over the three months to May, in-store sales of non-food items declined 2.7% on both a total and like-for-like basis. This is worse than the 12-month total average decline of 2.4%.
Online sales of non-food products grew 1.5% in May, an all-time low, against a growth of 11.5% in May 2018.
UK Head of Retail at KPMG, Paul Martin, adds: “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 3-month average – which softens the monthly volatility – demonstrates that achieving growth in retail remains a real struggle.”