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UK sales to American tourists surged in May, luxury benefited

Published
today Jun 24, 2019
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The ongoing strength of the American economy is helping retailers in the UK, particularly those at the higher end of the market, as US tourists spend more in Britain.


American vistors increased their shopping at UK luxury stores last month



VAT refunds specialist Planet said on Monday that UK retail sales to US shoppers rocketed by 27% in May year-on-year as American consumer confidence hit a six-month high. The extent of the American boom can be seen from the fact that overall UK sales to international shoppers rose by ‘only’ 3%, although given the weak state of the domestic retail scene at present, 3% seems like a good result.

And given that the 3% came along with a 12% increase in average purchase value (the second highest among Europe’s key destination markets) it was further good news. 

Looking at that 27% transatlantic spending spree, the boost in sales marked the ninth consecutive month of double-digit sales increases to American visitors. And the average spend by US shoppers in the UK also rose, to €474, in May. That’s a hefty €110 higher than the €364 recorded a year ago. 

Why are they spending so much more? Well, currency fluctuations will have had a big impact with the US dollar strengthening against the pound by 4.9% from May 2018 to May 2019 and by 5.5% against the euro in the same period. That makes it so much cheaper to travel both to the UK and mainland Europe.

Planet also said UK sales to international shoppers in general have now grown in four of the last five months and visitors from other countries also seem to be increasing their individual spend.

The UK has typically seen lower average transaction values (ATV) among international shoppers than other major destinations such as Italy and France. But looking at the average spend per purchase by international shoppers, UK retailers enjoyed 12% growth by this measure in May. And the ATV of the UK’s top-five source markets reached a 29-month high in May of €555 – the largest figure since January 2017.

It all underlines the fact that international visitors aren't only coming to the UK for its cultural and heritage offer any more and that shopping is now as much of a focus. And of course, shopping for many of those visitors means fashion and luxury, with high-end stores in particular very dependent on spending by international tourists.

David Perrotta, UK Country Manager at Planet, said the higher average transaction value “could indicate a bigger volume of high-value luxury goods being bought." He added: "We expect this growth in sales to international shoppers to continue in the coming months as we head into the summer holidays. Major events such as Eid al-Adha and the Cricket World Cup promise to bring shoppers from across the GCC nations and India to Europe and the UK – so it looks like UK retailers are set for a strong end to the second quarter.”

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