Thursday 9 January 2020 12:01 am

'Worst year on record' for retailers in 2019

Last year was the worst 12 months on record for UK retailers, as overall annual sales dipped for the first time since 1995, according to the latest data.

Total sales in 2019 fell 0.1 per cent, marking the worst year for retailers since records began 25 years ago, due to a year of political uncertainty that saw the UK edge towards a no-deal Brexit and elect a new government. 

In December – a crucial trading period for retailers – total sales increased by 1.9 per cent. However, if adapted to cancel out distortions created by Black Friday falling later than the previous year, total sales declined 0.9 per cent. 

Like-for-like UK retail sales were up 1.7 per cent last month, however the adapted figures show that sales slumped 1.2 per cent, according to KPMG and British Retail Consortium (BRC) research.

Political uncertainty caused by ongoing Brexit negotiations and the December General Election was partly to blame for the gruelling year for UK retailers.

However, the high street is also in the process of adapting to changing consumer behaviour and the shift to online shopping. 

The non-food online penetration rate was 34.2 per cent for 2019, against 32.4 per cent for 2018, a 1.8 percentage points increase. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Looking forward, the public’s confidence in Britain’s trade negotiations will have a big impact on spending over the coming year. 

“There are many ongoing challenges for retailers: to drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste.

“However, this takes resources, so it is essential the new Government makes good on its promise to review, and then reform the broken business rates system which sees retail pay 25% of all business rates, while accounting for 5% of the economy.”