By Max Clarke

Last month’s disturbances in UK cities continue to take their toll on the country’s high streets, with sales figures for August hitting a 2-year low.

With consumer confidence already fragile thanks to a combination of job cuts, pay freezes and some wretched performances from the stock market, the sight of hooded youths ransacking high street stalwarts like Currys and JD Sports along with local independents further deterred consumers from parting with their hard-earned cash, accountancy firm BDO LLP explain. Even areas not affected by the trouble directly felt the pinch, as police advice to close early ate into trading hours.

All sectors saw year-on-year sales dips in the four weeks until 28 August. Fashion and homewares sales both slumped by 2.4%, with the former seeing more mainstream brands hit particularly hard by the drop in footfall. Despite modest gains in luxury sales, non-fashion sales still dropped by 1.8%.

“Ever since the recession hit, smart retailers have been working flat out to keep consumers spending in an extremely tough trading environment,” Don Williams, National Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP “But the scale and ferocity of the disruption we saw in August was a real body blow.

“However, while August’s figures are undeniably bleak, we are comparing last month’s sales against a strong August in 2010. We don’t expect the pressure on consumer confidence to ease — or the cash they have in their pockets to increase — so we’re not expecting the sort of ‘keep calm and carry on’ sales uplift that we might see if the economy was in better health.

But retailers should bear in mind the British consumer has consistently shown itself to be a resilient creature and shoppers should start to return to retailers who give them great products, prices and service. Volumes will remain subdued over the next couple of months, but the overall level of spend should hold.”

The strength of non-store sales (up 40.2% year-on-year) should also give retailers with a multi-channel offering some comfort and further incentive to invest in this area of their business, Williams added.


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