Retailers left reeling after biggest sales decline on record

Retailers left reeling after biggest sales decline on record

April may have provided UK retailers with some light reprieve, thanks to Easter, but May brought a stark reminder of the sector’s ongoing issues.

According to research by BRC and KPMG, UK retail sales decreased by 3% on a like-for-like basis from a year earlier, when they had increased 2.8% from the preceding year. This was the steepest like-for-like decline since December 2008, excluding Easter distortions.

There was also extremely low growth online. Online sales of non-food products rose 1.5% in May, an all-time low, against +11.5% in May 2018. “This trend has continued to manifest itself over the last year and requires real focus from the retail community,” says Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail, KPMG.

“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,” says Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive at British Retail Consortium.

“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.”

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