UK shops’ December sales fall for sixth straight year: BDO survey

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British shops suffered a fall in December sales for the sixth straight year, a survey showed on Saturday, hurt by brittle consumer confidence and the ongoing shift to buying online.

Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO said its monthly High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) showed in-store high street sales fell by 1.9 percent year-on-year in December - an eleventh consecutive month of decline.

BDO said online sales grew 11.9 percent in December.

“As retailers suffered the worst year for well over a decade for in-store sales, it’s clear that consumer confidence is low,” said Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO.

“Shoppers have exercised extreme caution or shopped strategically online, seeking out discounts rather than visiting bricks and mortar stores or making impulse purchases,” she said, adding 2019 was set to be another challenging year for the sector.

Analysts have highlighted a disconnect between supportive economic factors - with consumers’ real earnings growing and employment levels high - and an apparent reluctance to spend, partly due to uncertainty over Britain’s departure from the European Union in March 2019.

Britain’s economic growth slowed to a crawl at the end of 2018 and the housing market is stalling, according to data published on Friday, less than three months before Brexit day.

Clothing chain Next is the only major listed UK retailer to have reported on Christmas trade so far. It fared better than expected, with a late surge in online demand offsetting steep falls in store sales.

A raft of retailers are due to update next week, including Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Debenhams.

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