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Falling sales

High street shops suffer ‘worst year on record’


Empty units scar Britain’s high streets (pic: Terry Murden)

British retailers suffered their worst year on record as shoppers eased back on spending and more shops went bust.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said total sales in 2019 fell 0.1%, marking the first annual sales decline since 1995, compared with 1.2% growth in 2018.

Sales in November and December were particularly weak, falling 0.9%, the BRC said.

A report from Barclaycard, which processes nearly half of all UK debit and credit transactions, said that consumer spending growth had declined if inflation was taken into account.

The data came as John Lewis announced that Paula Nickolds, managing director will be leaving the Partnership next month.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the BRC, said: “2019 was the worst year on record 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.”

The industry continues to transform in response to the changing technologies and shopping habits. Black Friday overtook Christmas as the biggest shopping week of the year for non-food items. Retailers also faced challenges as consumers became both more cautious and more conscientious as they went about their Christmas shopping.  

“Looking forward, the public’s confidence in Britain’s trade negotiations will have a big impact on spending over the coming year,” said Ms Dickinson.

“There are many ongoing challenges for retailers: to drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste.

“However, this takes resources, so it is essential the new Government makes good on its promise to review, and then reform the broken business rates system which sees retail pay 25% of all business rates, while accounting for 5% of the economy.”


Fashion retailer Jigsaw has demanded a 30% rent reduction from its landlords and asked to delay rent payments 

Lenders to Ted Baker, which has been hit by financial and boardroom turmoil, have drafted in advisers to undertake an urgent assessment of its prospects.

Tesco has reported a 0.4% rise in like-for-like sales for the 19 weeks to 4 January.

The supermarket chain said like-for-like sales for its UK stores during the third quarter period to 23 November fell by 0.4%.

Marks & Spencer has announced a 0.2% rise in like-for-like sales for the third quarter to 28 December.

Trade over the Christmas period was buoyed by food sales with rose by 1.4%. It contrasts with its clothing and home division where comparable sales fell by 1.7%.

List of failures

A number of High Street retailers either went into administration or announced job losses in 2019.

Among them, Mothercare announced it would no longer trade from independent stores. Mama’s and Papa’s also called in administrators.

Bonmarché, the womenswear retailer, and Links of London the jewellery chain retailer went into administration.

Albemarle & Bond pawn shops shut its 116 pawn shops. Online fashion firm Boohoo bought the online business of UK brands Karen Millen and Coast.

Debenhams has announced store closures, while Watt Brothers based in Glasgow closed before Christmas.

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