High Streets Initiative · 6 October 2017

UK high streets begin critical trading period with best September in five years

Salisbury, UK - September 4th 2016: Tourists and shoppers are walking through Salisbury City centre on a Sunday afternoon. Some are sitting down enjoying refreshments and food at tables in the street.
Strong September sales marked an improvement from challenging Autumn months in recent years for retailers

Britain’s high street retailers have had the strongest September since 2012, according to new sales figures, giving shop owners confidence ahead of a critical trading period leading up to Christmas.

Research released by business advisory firm BDO showed an overall like-for-like sales increase of 2.9 per cent in September – the strongest growth in any month since April 2014. The figures arrived as somewhat of a surprise, with previous reports predicting low footfall for the month.

Retail experts attributed carefully discounted lines to positive clothing and fashion sales, which rose by 2.7 per cent last month.

Lifestyle goods, such as sports equipment, saw an uplift of 3.6 per cent, while like-for-like homewares sales rose by 0.8 per cent.

Rising sales in several retail categories suggested low footfall was countered by consumers making fewer trips but spending more on each basket.

Consumers heading to stores for early Christmas shopping was cited as a significant driver of the sales push.

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Commenting on the figures, Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said two consecutive months of positive growth would be a “welcome relief” for retailers after poor Autumn sales in recent years.

“Pulling off the best September sales growth for five years is a great result for the high street at the start of this critical trading period,” she added.

“In a month when footfall is down, positive like-for-like sales figures demonstrate that shoppers are willing to spend. The favourable weather patterns in September cannot be ignored, particularly for fashion, but this result will be encouraging for retailers as we enter the final quarter of 2017.”

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Early Christmas shoppers were also credited with driving the biggest growth in online sales since January 2015, which rose by almost a third in September.

Michael added: “Retailers will be working hard to entice shoppers whether online or on the high street, and a combination of strategic discounting, a well curated and attractive product range, and targeted promotional activity will determine the winners and losers this Christmas.”

Rising inflation – currently at 2.9 per cent – and slow wage growth had been predicted to limit the spending power of consumers throughout the second half of 2017. But after strong performance in August in September and leading into the critical Christmas trading period, Don Williams, a retail partner at KPMG, suggested retailers had benefitted from shoppers “turning a blind eye” to incoming pressures.

“The industry now needs to overcome further devaluation of the pound and the increased costs therein,” he added.

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This article is part of a wider campaign called the High Streets Initiative, a new section of Business Advice championing independent and small retailers by identifying the issues that put Britain’s high streets under pressure. Visit our High Streets Initiative section to find out more.

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.