Shop sales slump during 'the worst year on record'
Retailers have suffered their worst year on record as overall sales fell for the first time.
Total retail sales over 2019 fell by 0.1% compared with 1.2% growth in 2018 - the first recorded decrease - reflecting ongoing dire conditions for the sector, the latest British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor shows.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said it was "no surprise" that 2019 had been a tough year for retailers, given the challenges of political uncertainty and the need to prepare for changes to trade with the EU as a result of Brexit.
And he said the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in October and the prospect of a border in the Irish Sea were "not okay for Northern Ireland".
He added: "With more changes guaranteed by the end of 2020, we need the Government to explain how they will protect Northern Ireland business and consumers from the complexity and cost rises that will come under the current deal.
"It is important to break the narrative that Northern Ireland is okay under this deal. Northern Ireland is not okay.
"That's why we need to minimise any delays, red tape and costs created by an Irish Sea border so that we can continue to provide our households with the choice and affordability they have now."
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BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "2019 was the worst year since our records began in 1995 and the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales. This was also reflected in the CVAs, shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019.
"Twice the UK faced the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, as well as political instability that concluded in a December general election - further weakening demand for the festive period."
Combining November and December together to iron out Black Friday distortions - the sales event fell in December last year rather than November as it did in 2018 - total sales were down 0.9% compared with the same period a year ago.