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UK retail weak again says CBI, but department stores up in clearance month

Published
Jan 29, 2020
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UK retail sales ended last year badly and they seem to have started this year in just the same way, with no let-up expected in February either. Sales volumes were flat year-on-year for the third consecutive month.


UK retail was weak again this month but department stores were a bright spot



That’s according to the latest monthly CBI Distributive Trades Survey. Although that survey is frequently prone to adjustment after it’s been released, the fact that it’s the earliest assessment of monthly figures that comes out, makes it a good guide to just what’s been going on in stores.

The CBI said January sales were seen as “poor for the time of year, but to a lesser degree than in December” and are expected to remain “below seasonal norms” in the year to February.

The sales performance varied across the retail sector. In contrast to flat overall sales volumes, growth in internet sales picked up and is expected to accelerate a little more next month.

There was another crumb of upbeat news. By sub-sector, the biggest positive contribution to volume growth came from department stores. However, although their volumes were up, values were likely to have been hurt by discounting.

Anna Leach, CBI Deputy Chief Economist, said: Both official data and business surveys are painting a picture of subdued activity for retailers. A challenging Christmas has extended into the New Year, with little expectation of any improvement soon.

“2020 looks set to be another tough year for the sector as growth in households’ disposable income is set to remain modest and retailers continue to battle longer-term issues such as digital disruption and the cumulative burden of policy costs. The upcoming Budget provides an opportunity for the Chancellor to support retailers, primarily by fixing the broken business rates system.”

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