High street suffers worst September since 2011 amid Brexit fears

‘Financial uncertainty facing consumers is reflected in lack of discretionary spend,’ says expert

Jon Sharman
Friday 04 October 2019 14:00
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The downturn was worst for shopping centres, with 8 per cent smaller crowds in the last week of the month
The downturn was worst for shopping centres, with 8 per cent smaller crowds in the last week of the month

High street shops had their worst September for eight years thanks to Brexit uncertainty, new figures suggest, and one key sector saw purchases at their lowest since the 2008 recession.

Other factors contributing to an in-store sales fall of 3.1 per cent, compared with a year prior and after an already weak 2.7 per cent drop, included plummeting footfall and closures of big-name chains.

It was the poorest September since 2011, according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker.

Weaker discretionary spending resulted in the lifestyle category suffering a 5.4 per cent drop, its worst performance since the height of the recession in November 2008.

September also saw the end of a stronger run for fashion as sales fell by 2 per cent, the first negative growth in three months for the category.

Footfall was down overall following the start of meteorological autumn, beginning with a decline of 2.5 per cent and culminating in a drop of 5.8 per cent as wet weather lashed the country. The downturn was worst for shopping centres, with 8 per cent smaller crowds in the last week of the month.

Shoppers were also reluctant to spend online, where sales growth came in well below the annual average and reached just 12.4 per cent.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “As the Brexit date looms, the financial uncertainty facing consumers is reflected in the lack of discretionary spend and the lowest lifestyle sales since 2008.

“This, combined with the collapse of a big household name like Thomas Cook, seems to have unnerved the shopper even further.

“Cash-strapped retailers are in dire straits. It has been a disastrous year for the high street and, as consumers continue to tighten their belts, they are entering the crucial ‘golden’ trading quarter on very unsteady ground.”

Jake Berry, the high streets minister, said: “Rapidly changing shopping habits are a challenge for high streets across the country.

“To support local retailers we’ve slashed business rates by one-third, bringing the total amount of business rate support to over £13bn since 2016.

“We’ve also invested £1bn through our Future High Streets Fund, and as part of our Open Doors Scheme we’re revamping vacant properties and providing free spaces for community groups in town centres to ensure our high streets are fit for the future.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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