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2019 caps fifth year of falling sales for retailers

By Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Correspondent

The UK high street has recorded its fifth consecutive year of falling sales, figures show.

BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) shows average annual like-for-like in-store sales for 2019 were down 0.6%.

While “not a disastrous result on its own”, the five-year run of negative figures will be of serious concern to retailers, the business advisory firm said.

The poor figures follow restricted spending by consumers, who are instead channelling growing proportions of their income into services and experiences rather than traditional retail.

Record levels of employment and rising disposable income were not enough to raise consumer confidence amid ongoing political and economic uncertainty around Brexit.

According to BDO figures, the lifestyle category tumbled in 2019, recording 11 consecutive months of negative in-store sales results, with only December providing respite due to a buoyant Black Friday kicking off a period of sustained discounting.

December’s positive in-store sales result was the first for lifestyle since January 2018.

Fashion remained volatile throughout the year, with six months of negative in-store like-for-like sales results. The sector capped the year off with a dive of 2.4% year-on-year from a poor base of negative 2% in the crucial December trading period.

However homewares had a strong 2019, finishing the year with four months of consecutive in-store sales growth.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “2019 was another tough year for the high street. There has been huge job losses across the country, with a number of high-profile brands disappearing from our high streets forever.

“Wages are rising, employment is high, and consumer spending power should have seen some improvement. However, uncertainty over when and how the UK will leave the EU cast a shadow over the UK retail sector.

“Both consumers and retailers are concerned about what 2020 has in store and it remains to be seen whether the Government fulfils its Future High Streets Fund plans to rejuvenate town centres across the country.”