Shoppers tempted by winter sales
Beleaguered retailers weathered the snowstorms that swept Britain last month after sales were boosted by shoppers tempted out with new year offers and promotions, figures have shown.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said like-for-like January retail sales grew at the fastest rate since December 2011, up 1.9% on the previous year, as shoppers also bought televisions, tablet computers and smartphones.
BRC director-general Helen Dickinson said that while sales suffered during the cold snap, it was short-lived and failed to cancel out the positive showing across the month.
She said: "People were tempted out by offers and promotions but also treated themselves to full-priced and premium products early in January, particularly must-have technology items. These factors, coupled with recovering consumer confidence, have added up to a more successful January than we saw last year."
The BRC also said demand for footwear was strong, with Wellington boot sales boosted by the snow. But demand for cold weather gear including knitwear hats and scarves failed to prevent the overall clothing sector posting its worst performance for 14 months, as sales of spring and summer collections suffered and shoppers turned to supermarket ranges.
The surge in online sales growth over Christmas slowed to 10% last month, with the benefits of shopping from home in the snow outweighed by concerns about collecting in-store.
Signs that sales held up in January will be a relief to the retail sector after a troubled few weeks with the collapse of high-profile chains HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster. It will also boost hopes that the UK can avoid a triple-dip recession after gross domestic product figures showed the economy contracted in the final three months of last year.
David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said the January sales figures gave retailers reasons to be cheerful and were a strong start to what is anticipated to be a tough year.
He said: "While technology advances may have hastened the demise of HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops, many retailers will look back at the last two months with pride after implementing successful seasonal campaigns where they have served the customer well."
But he warned that sales were only one side of the equation and only time would tell about the true cost of promotions and margin squeezes used to drive sales.