UK high street has "awful start to the year" as heavy snowfall stops shoppers spending.

January sales worst for 15 years

UK high street has “awful start to the year” as heavy snowfall stops shoppers spending.

January sales worst for 15 years

The UK has seen its weakest sales growth in more than a decade. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), UK retail sales fell 0.7% on a like-for-like basis compared with January 2009 when sales had risen 1.1%. Total sales rose 1.2% against a 3.2% increase in January 2009.

While the snow boosted food sales in the first week of January, non-food sales, especially discretionary items, took a hit, as customers avoided unnecessary travel in the freezing conditions. Non-food staged a partial recovery as the weather improved, with clothing and footwear showing gains on last year, while homewares and furniture saw declines.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson commented on the figures: “An awful start to the year and in stark contrast to an upbeat December. This is the worst January sales growth in the 15 years we’ve been running the survey. It was a month of two halves with a focus on must-haves early on. The coldest January since 1987 boosted food sales at the start of the month, as shoppers stocked up. But food sales growth melted with the snow. The month as a whole was significantly weaker than December.”

He added: “Most non-food sectors had a poor start, though nearly all recovered towards the end of the month. Furniture and DIY were worst hit as customers put off buying non-essentials. The VAT change brought some sales forward to December, but customers are becoming cautious again in the face of economic and political uncertainty. Retailers will be hoping these results are mainly a snow induced blip, rather than an indication.”

Non-food non-store sales, including online, mail order and phone sales, in January were 14.6% higher than a year ago, compared with 26.5% in December. A number of e-commerce sites benefited from shoppers buying online when the snow prevented them from getting out onto the high street.

BRC head of non-store retailing Sharon Hardiman commented on the results: “As December was the strongest month for non-store retailing last year, it’s no surprise this January is weaker in comparison. But this is still strong sales growth. The wintry weather encouraged some people to shop on the internet rather than going out in the snow, with retailers reporting an increase in new online customers.”

According to the BRC, while non-store retailing is experiencing faster growth than store sales, it still only represents 4% of total sales.

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