Fashion retailers delivered a robust rise in sales in July after hefty discounting and the damp weather helped to bring forward purchases of autumnwear.
Luxury and beauty chains also enjoyed a solid month but most general-merchandise chains – particularly homewares retailers – struggled, as the squeeze on consumer spending continues, according to the accountancy firm BDO's high-street sales tracker.
Clothing retailers were the top performers, posting a 3.7 per cent jump in like-for-likes sales at stores open at least a year. Strong demand for fashion items also boosted non-store – largely online – sales, which surged by 39.9 per cent in July.
The figures will give some hope to fashion chains, many of which were forced to launch their summer sales in the first week of June to convince hard-pressed shoppers to part with their cash. However, this came too late for the young fashion retailer Jane Norman and the department-store chain TJ Hughes, which both fell into administration this summer, though new buyers have salvaged a chunk of their stores from the wreckage.
BDO said the cold July weather had prompted an "early run on autumn ranges that were already being hailed as bolder than in recent years, combined with promotional activity".
Total underlying retail sales rose by 2.6 per cent last month. Don Williams, the national head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said that while these figures were a positive sign for the high street, chains will continue to be "cautious for good reason". Mr Williams added: "Many of these sales have been boosted through discounting. What long-term effect this has on margins is a story yet to be told."
The pressure on homewares retailers – which are battling a fall in discretionary spending on big-ticket items – was laid bare by a 2.1 per cent fall in sales in July.