Indie retailers return to sales growth in first quarter

Trading growth for independent retailers returned to just the right side of zero in the January to March period compared with the same months in 2015, according to the latest survey of members by bira (British Independent Retailers Association).

The figures for bira’s sales monitor Q1 2016 are very finely balanced, with just 52% of members reporting increased turnover and 48% logging declines. The balance of growth was a tiny +0.53%. But this was a big improvement on the last quarter of 2015, when 43% had gained, 57% lost out and the average drop had been 2.35%.

Bira commented: ‘As industry sources have been reporting shop prices falling for nearly three years now – and by about 3% a year – this is something of an achievement. And it comes against the background of high street institutions BHS and Austin Reed hitting serious trouble.’

Seven of the eleven product sectors tracked in the sales monitor grew, whereas last time seven of eleven lost out. Fashion and department stores continue to be challenged, while the big-ticket items in furniture, floorcoverings and beds continue to thrive. While seven of eight geographical areas showed declines in the last survey period, five of the eight returned to sunnier results in the first quarter. The north-east has now reported rising results for more than a year.

Bira said: ‘What’s odd is that while results have improved, confidence has taken a hit. And where only 30% were anxious about the year ahead in January, 45% are now. Is this generalised anxiety, or is it related to uncertainty about the EU referendum in June?

Comments from members certainly show that the issue is looming large in their minds right now. One of the many comments on the subject sums up the difficulty for a lot of business owners. A cookshop and houseware retailer in The Midlands said: “We are seriously confused purely due to lack of information. We don’t feel enough has been done to explain what changes will be introduced if we leave the European Union.” The view of a cookshop and housewares retailer in the south-west goes further. “There does not appear to be any unbiased  information about the pros and cons of the EU membership,” the respondent said.

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