Retailers suffered their worst year on record in 2019, as annual sales fell for the first time in 25 years, according to the latest industry figures.
Data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and advisory firm KPMG showed that overall UK retail sales for 2019 decreased by 0.1 per cent, compared with 1.2 per cent growth in 2018. This marked the first annual decline since the sector was first monitored, in 1995.
Total sales for December increased by 1.9 per cent year on year, but the BRC said when taking November and December together – “to iron out the Black Friday distortions” – total sales fell by 0.9 per compared with the same period in 2018.
On a like-for-like basis, December sales increased by 1.7 per cent on 2o18, but fell 1.2 per cent when November and Black Friday were taken into account.
Said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC: “2019 was the worst year on record and the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales. This was also reflected in the CVAs [Company Voluntary Arrangements], shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019.
“Twice the UK faced the prospect of a no deal Brexit, as well as political instability that concluded in a December General Election, further weakening demand for the festive period. The industry continues to transform in response to the changing technologies and shopping habits. Black Friday overtook Christmas as the biggest shopping week of the year for non-food items. Retailers also faced challenges as consumers became both more cautious and more conscientious as they went about their Christmas shopping.”
Ms Dickinson added: “Looking forward, the public’s confidence in Britain’s trade negotiations will have a big impact on spending over the coming year. There are many ongoing challenges for retailers: to drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste.
“However, this takes resources, so it is essential the new Government makes good on its promise to review, and then reform the broken business rates system, which sees retail pay 25 per cent of all business rates, while accounting for five per cent of the economy.”