Retail sales ease the gloom despite mixed picture on the high street

A robust performance by footwear and clothing retailers helped UK high streets to register a modest rise in underlying sales in August – but furniture and flooring chains struggled.

Despite being compared with a lacklustre 0.1 per cent fall in like-for-like sales in August 2009, underlying like-for-like retail sales rose by only 1 per cent last month, the monthly survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG found. That said, the figure was ahead of July's 0.5 per cent rise.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said: "August 2009 was the worst month of the second half of last year, so this year's results are nothing to write home about."

Footwear sales improved "markedly" but women's and children's ranges sold better than men's, she said. In clothing, back-to-school campaigns and aggressive promotions boosted sales of childrenswear, while menswear shops fared better than womenswear stores. Total UK retail sales rose by 2.8 per cent.

The annual rate of sales growth in the grocery sector slowed in August. Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of the grocery trade body IGD, said: "Food inflation is in the headlines but the effects are not filtering through into sales."

Stephen Robertson, the director-general of the BRC, said renewed weakness in the housing market had hit the furniture and flooring trade in particular. He said: "The good news is sales are growing, but anxiety about job cuts and tax rises is putting people off making major spending commitments."

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