High street sales drop as retailers slash prices

Emma Haslett
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Despite price cuts in January, high street sales fell (Source: Getty)

Get ready for another round of "it wasn't us, it was the weather" from retailers. Official figures published today showed retail sales fell 0.3 per cent in January, despite feverish price-cutting by high street stores.

The figure is a larger drop than anticipated - economists had expected 0.2 per cent. And ostensibly, it's also a pretty big drop from the 0.4 per cent rise in December - although lest we forget, the combined might of Black Friday and Cyber Monday pushed consumers into hitherto unknown pre-Christmas buying frenzy.

Average store prices fell 3.1 per cent during the month, although you can put that down to three factors. Firstly, 2015 has got off to a warm start - never a good thing for retailers, who depend on a winter chill to shift everything from woolly jumpers to hot beverages. And thanks to rock-bottom inflation, prices are now at their lowest level in decades. Plus, falling oil prices (a huge contributing factor when it comes to inflation) mean prices at the petrol pump were way lower than usual, dragging down the average.

Comparing the figure with the same period a year earlier, though, and things look rather healthier: sales rose 5.4 per cent compared with the same month last year, although that was still slightly lower than the 5.9 per cent expected by economists. Still, it's the 22nd consecutive

Sam Alderson, an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research, pointed out that because households tend to splash their cash over Christmas, retail sales in the first few months of the year are often muted.

As more spare cash is freed up in the coming months we expect discretionary spending to pick up, supporting significant sales volume growth this year.

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