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Published
Oct 4, 2019
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‘Worst September in 8 years’: UK high street crisis deepens

Published
Oct 4, 2019

The UK high street suffered the worst September in eight years as new figures paint a bleak picture for the UK retail sector ahead of the crucial 'golden' trading quarter.



Brexit uncertainty, store closures and rain were to blame for last month’s poor trading conditions, sending in-store sales down by 3.1% from an already low base of -2.7% last year.

This is according to accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP, which measures the weekly sales changes of more than 85 retailers with some 10,000 stores with its High Street Sales Tracker (HSST).

Discretionary spending continues to fall as consumers remain cautious ahead of Brexit day. Fashion retailers reported a 2% fall in like-for-like sales during the month, on top of a 2.8% decrease last year, while the lifestyle category suffered the lowest in-store sales since the height of the recession in November 2008 - down by 5.4%.

Shops were also hit by falling footfall, with high street foot traffic starting off with a decline of 2.5% in the first weeks of the months and culminating in a fall of 5.8% as rain poured across the country in the last week of September.

Despite providing shelter from bad weather, shopping centres were hit hardest with footfall dropping 8.0% during the month.

Consumers’ reluctancy to spend extended online too, with BDO recording non-store like-for-like results well below the annual average, up by just 12.4%. 

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “As the Brexit date looms, the financial uncertainty facing consumers is reflected in the lack of discretionary spend and the lowest lifestyle sales since 2008. This, combined with the collapse of a big household name like Thomas Cook, seems to have unnerved the shopper even further.

“Cash-strapped retailers are in dire straits. It has been a disastrous year for the high street and, as consumers continue to tighten their belts, they are entering the crucial ‘golden’ trading quarter on very unsteady ground. 

“Business owners have long-called for business rates reform and, while I agree this is needed, more urgent government action is required to help our failing high streets into 2020.”

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