Belfast Telegraph

Storm Doris leaves UK high streets reeling in its wake

By Josie Clarke

The UK high street has suffered its worst February since 2009 as headwinds from the economy and Storm Doris curbed spending, figures show.

Retailers saw like-for-like sales drop 2.2% on the back of an already negative base for February last year, according to the BDO High Street Sales Tracker. The figures mark the third month in a row of negative growth and the fourth consecutive February with no growth, BDO said.

Storm Doris, which caused chaos on the roads and rail networks, had hit sales on the high street, sending year-on-year fashion sales falling by 3.4%, the poorest result for the sector since September 2016 when they dipped 5.9%.

Sales of homewares also fell for the first time since June 2016, down 1.4% year-on-year, as households tightened their belts against rising prices.

Even online sales slowed, growing at just 19.9% in February.

The latest footfall figures for Northern Ireland show a drop of 0.2% in January, according to figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) and Springboard.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO LLP, said the figures laid bare the intense pressure on consumers' discretionary spending.

She said: "The Chancellor told us growth in the economy was expected to be higher, and borrowing lower, than forecast in November, but that hasn't translated into consumer spending power.

"February saw a perfect storm, both figuratively and literally. Doris kept shoppers away from the high street, but the relatively poor growth of online sales in February shows that the economic headwinds significantly curbed spending.

"The majority of retailers' price hedges ran out at the end of last year, and inflationary cost pressures have forced them to increase prices, sharply in some cases."

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