High street was the loser in Olympics

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The Independent Online

Retailers counted the cost of Team GB's record Olympic medal haul last month after the high street endured its worst sales this year, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said today.

Its figures came amid more evidence of a growing north-south divide among retailers with twice as many empty shops in the North-west than in London, according to research from the Local Data Company (LDC).

The BRC said like-for-like sales fell 0.4 per cent during August – the weakest month for retailers since last November – as engrossed fans followed the exploits of Olympic stars rather than heading out to spend.

Despite a minor boost for party food and drink, non-food retailers suffered worst from the distraction of the Games, while there were also fewer visitors in central London.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: "It's clear people were absorbed by the magnificent Olympics and had little interest in shopping, especially for major items. Usually-reliable online sales suffered, putting in the worst sales growth since we started the measure four years ago.

"Some retailers told us online activity was particularly thin in the evenings. If people weren't watching television they were more likely to be following the sport on PCs and mobile devices than shopping."

The data came as the shop vacancy report from the LDC for the first half of the year showed one in every five shops empty in the North-west, compared with one in 10 in London. The LDC blamed a combination of hard-pressed consumers, more online shopping and an over-supply of retail space for the latest spate of shop closures. Stripping out regional variations, the national vacancy rate edged up to 14.6 per cent from 14.3 per cent last year.

Matthew Hopkinson, director of the LDC, said: "A widening gap in health exists between town centres depending on their location, offer and consumer profile."