Fashion posts record low performance in September, BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor reveals

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UK retail sales were down 2.1% on a like-for-like basis from September 2013, when they had increased 0.7% on the preceding year, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor. On a total basis, sales were down 0.8%, against a 2.4% rise in September 2013. This is the weakest performance since December 2008 excluding Easter distortions.

Clothing and footwear were the worst performing categories in September, reporting record declines since April 2012 and March 2013, respectively.

Over the last three months, food showed a decline of 1.7% and reported its first twelve-month average decline in at least five years, at -0.2%. Non-food reported growth of 3.0% over the three months to September 2014, underperforming its twelve-month average of 3.6%.

Online sales of non-food products in the UK grew 8.2% in September versus a year earlier, when it had grown 13.4%. This was the lowest online growth since August 2013. The non-food online penetration rate was 17.5% in September, 1.3 percentage point higher than in September 2013.

Helen Dickinson, director general, British Retail Consortium, said: “In September we saw the lowest retail sales figures since December 2008 excluding Easter distortions. This can be attributed to a number of factors including the continuing decline in food sales. Furthermore, there was exceptionally low demand for items such as boots and coats, resulting in the lowest fashion sales performance since April 2012. However, demand for big ticket items continues to be strong with furniture outperforming all other categories.

“Despite the testing environment last month there are encouraging signs for the industry as the build up to Christmas begins. Toys and beauty products sold well and sales are only expected to accelerate for these items around Christmas. As we approach Christmas, the search for talented seasonal staff has begun, to support the extra demand from shoppers. A large proportion of these seasonal roles will turn into permanent positions; proving that this time of year is great for those looking to begin a career in retailing.”

David McCorquodale, read of retail, KPMG, said: “The prolonged Indian summer wilted retail sales in September, leaving clothing retailers hot under the collar.  Selling woolly jumpers in warm weather is a tough ask, even for the most talented of sales staff.

“After a bumper summer, this is a disappointing outcome for retailers and has undoubtedly reversed some of the sales gains made in August.  However, if temperatures drop to a more seasonal level this cooler weather will quickly turnaround retailers’ fortunes and help them to sell their autumn winter ranges.

“The grocers had another challenging month, with further price cuts and promotions announced by most.  With a rebasing of margins in the grocery sector throughout the year, this final quarter will see sales go to those who are most focussed on their customers.

“One warm September doesn’t ruin a Christmas and retailers on the whole are on a firm footing as they enter the all-important final quarter. The winners will be those who have invested in their systems and carefully managed their stock levels to give themselves the best shot at a successful Christmas.”

Food & drink sector performance

Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive, IGD, said: “September’s exceptionally dry and warm weather wasn’t enough to improve on the previous month’s disappointing food and drink sales. It did however contribute to an excellent British wheat harvest, fitting a pattern of good cereal yields worldwide.

“This points towards continuing low food price inflation which would meet people’s expectations. Only eight per cent of shoppers predict food prices to become much more expensive over the next year, the lowest level since 2010.

“Food retailers will now look to take full advantage of Halloween, firmly established as one of the biggest occasions in the annual grocery calendar.”