June UK retail sales are weak but fashion continues to rise
The UK saw its lowest like-for-like sales growth last month since February 2021, the latest BDO High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) showed on Friday. However, the fashion sector stood out as strong.
Even with fashion’s ongoing good performance though, BDO’s head of retail and wholesale, Sophie Michael, said that with consumer confidence at historically low levels, real wages falling to a 20-year low and interest rates set to rise further, there are few signs of encouragement for retailers.
And this week’s resignation-but-not-leaving-yet announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson means the stability and clear direction that retailers (and the customers) are looking for from government is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon.
So what did the report actually tell us? Well, on the surface, it didn't look that bad. Total like-for-like (LFL) sales increased by 8.4% — including sales through physical stores and online — against June 2021. But as mentioned, this was the lowest rise for 16 months. And much of that growth will have been about inflation, which is running at historically high levels after decades of low-single-digit price rises.
Total non-store LFL sales were unimpressive at just 1.6% higher in June. While this is the online retail sector’s third consecutive positive result, it’s a very disappointing performance given that it comes after fairly low growth of 8.2% in June 2021. It most likely shows that online has reverted back to a level of normality post-pandemic and underlines how fully consumers have embraced the return to physical shopping.
The month started particularly slowly, as total LFL sales grew by just 4.65% in the first week of June, which included the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday. They rose 7.63% in the second week, and 7.3% in the third week. The final week of the month saw the strongest LFL growth, with sales jumping by 18.61% above those recorded in 2021.
And the fashion sector was a big contributor to the increases. Despite a slow start in early June, it saw total LFL growth of 15.2% compared to a surge of 73.7% this time last year on the back of the big reopening post-lockdown.
Of course, fashion has continued to be buoyed by the fact that many consumers need to update their wardrobes in ways that they haven't for several years. That means they’ve been buying clothing and footwear for occasions, such as a return to the office, a holiday or social event.
But one category that had boomed during the pandemic – homewares – had a tough month with a fall of 8.8% this time. It was the third negative month for the category this year.
Sophie Michael said: “The fashion sector has undoubtedly been boosted by consumers refreshing their wardrobes for summer holidays. However, the weak sales growth for online retailers and the negative results for the homewares sector are key indicators that consumers are tightening their purse strings on discretionary spend and in particular on big-ticket items.
“Retailers who have accumulated high levels of stock are now faced with a real challenge: with their own cost base rising, they cannot afford to discount it to increase sales, but neither can they afford to sit on unsold product. Effective management of stock levels and working capital will be essential for retailers to trade successfully through this period of unprecedented challenge.
“Ultimately, however, retailers will be looking to the government to use the levers at its disposal to get inflation under control, ease the cost-of-living crisis and create the economic conditions where the retail sector can flourish.”
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