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Retailers urged to hold their nerve after worse sales month since 2008

By Josie Clarke

Published 06/05/2016

The UK high street has suffered its worst month since 2008 as poor weather combined with economic uncertainty ensured shoppers kept a tight grip on their wallets
The UK high street has suffered its worst month since 2008 as poor weather combined with economic uncertainty ensured shoppers kept a tight grip on their wallets

The UK high street has suffered its worst month since 2008 as poor weather combined with economic uncertainty ensured shoppers kept a tight grip on their wallets.

High street retailers recorded a 6.1% fall in overall year-on-year sales in April - the worst overall figures since November 2008, according to accountancy and business advisory firm BDO.

The fashion sector saw its like-for-like sales plummet by 9.2% on last year, a low not seen since November 2008 when the world was in the grip of the global economic crisis.

Sales of lifestyle goods were flat and non-store sales grew by just 16.4%, and the homeware sector saw sales up by 17.8%. Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO LLP, said last month's unpredictable weather had left shoppers not needing to buy new spring and summer wardrobes.

Weak consumer confidence, driven by uncertainty around a Brexit and other global events meant shoppers kept a tighter-than-usual grip on their wallets in April.

But Ms Michael said retailers would be ill-advised to respond to the sudden drop in sales by panic discounting.

She said: "With sluggish consumer spending and the cold recent months, retailers will undoubtedly be feeling that everything is against them.

"Retailers, however, need to be confident in their product offer, hold their nerve as the weather warms up and be selective and strategic about promotions.

"Operating margins have already been squeezed this year through additional costs such as the National Living Wage and the adverse impact of a weak pound, and heavy discounting will only erode margins further."

The survey came as supermarket Morrisons said like-for-like sales grew 0.7% in the first quarter of the year as the supermarket continues its turnaround under chief executive David Potts.

The results represent the second consecutive quarter of growth at the grocer, which does not operate in Northern Ireland, after four years of stagnation.

Sainsbury's, which has seven stores here, this week posted a 13.8% fall in underlying profits.

Belfast Telegraph

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