UK retail gets summer fashion & beauty boost but online drives most growth
Another day, another UK retail sales report that contradicts the sales reports we’ve seen so far. Just a day after Visa said fashion retail had a tough time in June, the British Retail Consortium said non-food sales rose last month, helped by spending on fashion.
So what are we to make of it all? Well, it’s clear that some fashion retailers are doing well and some aren’t, that some consumers are spending freely and others are reining-in their discretionary spend as they fret about the future. And it’s also clear that 2017 is continuing to be a roller coaster year for the retail sector.
Let’s look at the BRC figures. Compiled in association with KPMG, they showed overall June comparable sales up 1.2% year-on-year, recovering from the 0.5% of a year ago. However, the month’s rise was below the 6-month and 12-month averages of 1.4%.
In the three months to June, the best rise was in foods (up 3.6% comparable and 4.7% in total) as non-food sales rose only 0.9% on a comparable basis and 1.2% in total. but this was the first time non-foods rose above the year average of 1% and it was actually the best three-month average since December.
Yet the figure was skewed by online sales and with those factored-out, store sales in the non-foods area actually dropped.
The BRC said that online sales of non-food products grew 10.1% in June, compared to 9% a year earlier. Over the three-months to June, non-food e-sales grew 8.4% while in-store sales fell 0.7% on a total basis and 1.2% comparable. Yet even with this fall, it was still a better performance than the comparable 12-month average that’s down 2%.
BRC CEO Helen Dickinson hailed “the arrival of summer [that] provided a welcome pick-up to sales growth in June, particularly to non- food categories which saw a reversal in fortunes after a prolonged period of sluggish growth.”
She said leisure pursuits and activities spurred consumer spending on summer clothing, beauty products and outdoor toys, which were also boosted by gift purchases over Eid.
Yet while she said the six-month average, buoyed by June’s strong performance, now paints a slightly rosier picture for retail sales “on closer inspection the year-on-year numbers belie the fact that rising food prices are responsible for the main component of growth and have prompted more cautious spending towards discretionary non-food items.”
She also highlighted the fact that online continues to take the lion’s share of growth, and that although contribution from stores increased slightly in June, “it seems shoppers headed out with specific purchases in mind, rather than just to browse.”
KPMG’s UK head of retail, Paul Martin, was cautiously upbeat: “For fashion retailers the boost in sales could not have come soon enough. Following a challenging year so far, it appears the higher temperatures thankfully provided an increased interest in summer collections. Elsewhere, the sun also shone on health and beauty sales too, with the category continuing to be a top performer.
“While the latest figures are definitely more favourable than last month’s, retailers must look at the bigger picture. Inflation and household debt are fuelling part of this retail growth, meanwhile the industry is undergoing significant structural changes more broadly. The retailers succeeding are those embracing change.”
Helen Dickinson thinks that looking ahead, there’s a question mark over whether the spending momentum will last, “as household expenditure is increasingly squeezed from rising inflation and slowing wage growth.” And she called for a business- and consumer-friendly approach from the government, especially when it comes to Brexit talks.
“The reality is that retailers’ efforts in absorbing mounting cost pressures into their margins are already being tested,” she said. “So the government must have the consumer front of mind as it enters the UK’s trading negotiations with the EU, to avoid any further cost increases to retailers and their customers.”
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