Christmas fails to prevent retailers from ‘worst year on record’

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Struggling retailers experienced their worst year on record for annual sales in 2019, according to figures published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Total sales among the UK’s beleaguered retailers decreased 0.1% last year and while that sounds fairly modest, it’s a contraction compared to figures showing 1.2% growth in 2018.

The figures showed total sales in November and December – historically buoyant months for retailers – were particularly weak, falling by 0.9% year-on-year.

The period took into account the impact of sales from Black Friday 2019, which was bigger than Christmas for sales of non-food items.

Black Friday, officially later than usual on 29 November 2019, boosted total retail sales in December by 1.9% and distorted the overall retail statistics for the year.

To put the statistics into context, the BRC’s figures exclude some online retailers – including Amazon – which account for around 20% of all online sales.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive at the BRC, said:

“2019 was the worst year on record and the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales.

“This was also reflected in the company voluntary arrangements, shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019.”

High-street retailers continued to struggle last year, particularly with paying rents and other overheads such as rising minimum wage and business rates.

Growing dominance from online firms also took its toll on several high-profile operators last year, with Mothercare UK and Toys ‘R’ Us among those to enter administration.

Dickinson added:

“There are many ongoing challenges for retailers – to drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste.

“It is essential the new Government makes good on its promise to review and then reform the broken business rates system, which sees retail pay 25% of all business rates, while accounting for 5% of the economy.”

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