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UK high street experiences worst January sales in four years

The UK’s high street has just experienced its worst January sales in four years, reveal the latest figures released by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO.

January’s like-for-like sales declined by -0.1%, according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST). It marks the first negative growth in the crucial January discounting period since 2013 and comes hot on the heels of a dismal December (also down -0.1% year-on-year).

With UK shoppers facing inflation, price increases and political uncertainty in 2017, the lack of consumer spending in the busiest two months of the shopping calendar has left retailers feeling nervous, says BDO.

Fashion sales were hit hardest in January, down -1% year-on-year after three consecutive weeks of negative sales growth at the end of the month.

Sales of lifestyle goods grew 1.2% for the month, partly driven by overseas visitors drawn to the UK by the weak pound. Consumers were also quick to snap up discounted homeware items, increasing like-for-like sales in the sector by 2.9% for January.

But the cold snap in the third week of January drove shoppers away from the high street, dragging overall like-for-like store sales down by -4.46% for the week. The only silver lining for retailers came from online sales, which hit a two-year high for a single month, growing 26.6% in January.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO LLP, comments: “By the third week of January, many retailers began to transition between discounted and new lines. Although the weather was a factor in discouraging people from visiting the shops, retailers shouldn’t become distracted by this. Those with a strong online presence were able to combat falling footfall with strong online sales, particularly in week three, highlighting the need for investment across all channels

“With a poor start to the year – in what is usually a positive month on the high street – I expect that many retailers will be concerned about the year ahead.

“The overwhelming trend for 2017 is going to be uncertainty; whether it be economic, political or in relation to consumer spending habits. But instead of being preoccupied by the external backdrop,  retailers ought to ensure they remain agile and focused on  product, quality and range to entice customers in store or online and recreate some of that customer loyalty that has been fast disappearing in recent years.”

She adds: “Innovation in customer engagement through all channels will be a key priority for all retailers if they want to stay ahead in 2017.”