In-store sales take a hit in UK retail's worst year yet

UK retail – and physical in-store retail in particular – saw its worst year on record in 2019, according to British Retail Consortium figures published this morning (9 January 2020). The figures are expected to increase pressure for action to level out the playing field between physical and online retailers.

Total sales for 2019 fell by 0.1%, compared with growth of 1.2% in 2018. Even the busy Christmas period saw a fall in sales. With November and December calculated together to iron out distortions from the timing of Black Friday, total sales dropped by 0.9% compared to the same period in 2018.

The most worrying drops were in physical retail. Over the three months to December, in-store non-food sales fell by 3.8% on a like-for-like basis, while the 12-month average decline was 3.1%.

“2019 was the worst year on record and the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales,” said BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson. “This was also reflected in in the CVAs, shop closures, and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019.”

Dickinson said the threat of a no-deal Brexit and a December General Election compounded existing problems for the sector.

“There are many ongoing challenges for retailers: to drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste,” added Dickinson. “However, this takes resources, so 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.”