High street sales dampened by storms and coronavirus fears

While storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge hit the UK and coronavirus gripped global headlines, Britain’s high street retailers suffered a battering with the seventh consecutive February of falling in-store like-for-like sales, figures released by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP yesterday (Friday March 6) reveal.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker, in-store like-for-like sales dropped -0.9% last month from a base of -3.7% for February 2019.

Year-on-year lifestyle sales (defined as general household goods, gifts, health & beauty and leisure goods) were down -2.9% in February from a base of -4.9% last year. The result is the third straight February of negative in-store sales for the category, with the usually buoyant Valentine’s Day shopping spike failing to lift the category.

Sales of homewares (defined as cookware, furniture & floor coverings, lighting, linen & textiles) also fell by -3.6% last month, but from a marginal base of +0.4% for February last year. The dip was the first negative result for in-store homeware since August 2019.

Fashion sales saw a marginal improvement of +0.3% in February but weren’t even close to offsetting a negative base of -3.5% for last year.

Moving away from the high street, non-store sales were also weak throughout the month with only an increase of +6.0% from a relatively middling base of +12.4% last year. The result was the second worst monthly non-store like-for-like since 2010.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “Bad weather and concerning headlines contributed to an already difficult trading environment in February.

The poor performance in non-store sales [defined as sales through the internet and mail order] contributed further to a disastrous month for retail across the board.

“It’s clear that shoppers are still exercising extreme caution. While some of last year’s uncertainty dissipates, it seems it’s being replaced with increased volatility. As the news of the impact of coronavirus continues to spread, and Britain’s high streets take a hit from February’s extreme weather, many retailers will feel the impact of the higher costs needed to absorb the disruption within their supply chains.

“With the Budget next week, businesses and shoppers will look to the government to see what measures are being taken to mitigate these risks. They also want the government to follow through on its promise of a ‘fundamental review’ of the business rates regime, which is suffocating bricks-and-mortar retail. For retailers feeling the pressure, the Budget couldn’t come at a more crucial time.”

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