UK has another weak month on the high street but fashion edges up
It's very rare that the regular monthly footfall and sales figures reports coming out of the UK have anything positive to offer and the reports for last month seem to be no different. On Friday, BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) for the month showed stores suffered their seventh consecutive negative February on the run.
Sales in physical shops were hurt by a combination of factors, including wind and rain storms and the growing fears around the coronavirus. Interestingly as well, online sales saw the second-worst monthly result since 2010 with a rise of only 6%. This means that a high level of consumer caution is still a factor as the aforementioned issues affecting physical shops might normally have been likely to drive an online sales surge.
Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge hit the UK in February and coronavirus dominated global headlines, and that meant like for like sales in physical shops fell 0.9%, according to the BDO High Street Sales Tracker (HSST).
But while that's far from good news, it's not as bad a fall as the one we saw this time last year. February 2019 recorded a drop of 3.7% as colder winter weather and plenty of snow had a bigger impact on consumers’ desire to go out to shop.
And for the fashion sector, it wasn't quite such a bad month as might have been expected with a marginal improvement last month of 0.3%. But that didn't come anywhere close to counteracting the 3.5% fall that happened in February 2019.
Elsewhere, year-on-year lifestyle sales were down 2.9% in February from a poor base of -4.9% last year. The disappointing result is the third straight February of negative in-store sales for the category, with the usually buoyant Valentine’s Day shopping spike failing to lift the category.
Sales of homewares also fell by 3.6% in the month, but from a positive marginal base of 0.4% for February last year. The dip was the first negative result for in-store homewares since August 2019.
As mentioned, non-store sales rose 6% but that was fairly anaemic compared to an increase of 12.4% this time last year.
Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “The poor performance in non-store sales contributed further to a disastrous month for retail across the board. It’s clear that shoppers are still exercising extreme caution. While some of last year’s uncertainty dissipates, it seems it’s being replaced with increased volatility.
“As the news of the impact of coronavirus continues to spread, and Britain’s high streets take a hit from February’s extreme weather, many retailers will feel the impact of the higher costs needed to absorb the disruption within their supply chains.”
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