Retailers are urging Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to support the industry in this month’s Budget after like-for-like UK retail sales dropped 0.4 per cent year-on-year in February.
In its monthly sales monitor compiled with KPMG, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said new business burdens must be avoided and existing ones removed when the chancellor makes his statement on March 23rd.
With February’s total retail sales up just 1.1 per cent year-on-year - the second slowest growth figure for almost two years - it is clear the sector needs governmental support if it is to help hold up the economy in the way many commentators suggest it can.
Stephen Robertson, BRC Director General, said: “Apart from a bit of help from half-term for some retailers, February’s sales were weak.
“Other than the negative figures last April (caused by the year-to-year movement of Easter), this February’s 1.1 per cent total sales growth is the poorest since May 2009 - even poorer when the impact of the VAT rise on inflation is taken into account.”
He added that last month’s figures provide a more realistic picture of the current state of affairs for customers and retailers alike following the sales boost in January, which was caused by heavy discounting and a pre-VAT rise rush to the shops.
“Even online, the growth in sales of non-food items slowed to an 18-month low,” Robertson added.
“Customers are cautious and cutting back in a big way on non-essential spending.”
BRC and KPMG’s report shows that although food sales picked up after a weaker January, non-food sales slowed sharply, with clothing, footwear, homeware and big-ticket purchases all dropping significantly.
Focus now turns to two weeks’ time, when retailers will be keen to hear Osborne announce measures that will encourage UK consumers to start spending again.