18 Jan 2019

High street begins New Year with Black Friday hangover as retailers browse for Brexit clarity

Most high streets suffered their worse Christmas trading for a decade – partly due to Black Friday’s evolution - as retailers and consumers alike are crying out for some political certainty to boost confidence.

The key findings from the Office for National Statistics showed:

  • In the three months to December 2018, estimates in the quantity bought decreased by 0.2% with declines across all main sectors except fuel.
  • When compared with the previous month, the quantity bought in December 2018 decreased by 0.9%, as all sectors except food stores and fuel stores declined on the month.
  • Looking at annual growth rates, the whole of 2018 increased by 2.7% in the quantity bought; an annual slowdown in comparison with the peak of 4.7% experienced in 2016.
  • In December 2018, online retailing accounted for 20% of total retailing, with an overall growth of 13.9% when compared with the same month a year earlier.

 Phil Mullis, Partner and Head of Retail and Wholesale at leading accountancy firm, Wilkins Kennedy, said:

“Retailers were desperate for a positive Christmas to build on Black Friday but the footfall wasn’t there for a lot of non-food retailers - consumer confidence is at rock bottom and everybody connected with retail is crying out for clarity around Brexit.

“The closer we get to 29 March, the more reluctant consumers are to let go of their disposable income as well as retailers in terms of investing into new approaches to attract customers.

“While it is positive to see the value of retail purchases as a whole growing year-on-year by 4.1 per cent for the last three months, it is concerning to see the amount of spend declining by 0.9  per cent in December compared to the previous month.

“Another stand-out statistic is the significant 13.9 per cent growth in online retailing, which now accounts for 20% of total purchases – reinforcing that if retailers are to prosper on the high street in the long-term, then they need to think innovatively and create experiences to draw people in.

“Retailers that have fast-moving ranges will continue to do well, however, the main challenge for retailers this year will be on the frequency of their discounts – the more this is done the more damage it does to their bottom line.

“Independent retailers that I work with are starting the year with a sense of trepidation, and it is highly unlikely that things will start to get better for UK’s high streets until the industry understands the consequences of the UK’s deal to leave the EU.

“The challenge for retailers is to weather this storm of uncertainty through to the summer, by which time consumer confidence should start to improve following clarity on the UK’s position with the EU.”

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