High street struggles to gain ground as retail woes heighten

05 April 2019

  • No catching up for retailers as shoppers put discretionary spend on hol
  • Improved conditions fail to offset impact of ‘Beastly’ like-for-like sales

A mere +4.8% rise in in-store sales proved dire for high street retailers trying to rebound from a brutal base of -10.1% for March last year, figures released today by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP reveal.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST), disappointing in-store like-for-like sales in March failed to offset last year’s dire performance when the ‘Beast from the East’ left high streets like ghost towns, resulting in the worst month for the high street since November 2008.

The latest figures bring to a close the high street’s disastrous first quarter trading in 2019. Even Mother’s Day and warm spring weather failed to provide any respite for bricks-and-mortar retailers in March, as sales failed to counterbalance last year’s result despite improved conditions.  

Lifestyle sales suffered the 14th consecutive month of negative in-store results, as shopping for Mother’s Day failed to save the category. With a -2.7% dip from an already awful -4.5% base, discretionary spend proved to be lacking for shoppers. 

Fashion sales increased in-store by +8.2% this month, but couldn’t offset a rock bottom base of -12.7% for the same month last year. Similarly, homeware in-store sales increased by +9.0%, but again from an already very low base of -13.2% for March 2018.

Despite another poor month for the high street, non-store like-for-like sales grew by +18.7% this month from a middling base of +11.0% for the equivalent month last year. Total non-store like-for-like sales had a mediocre start to the month, but enjoyed a substantial rise in the final week thanks to Mother’s Day spending.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “With increased footfall, falling unemployment and rising wages, the stars should have aligned for high street retailers in March. Yet sales remained extremely poor and any positive movement failed to make a dent in the huge negative result we had last year caused by the Beast from the East.

“There has been noise of increases in total consumer spending, but these results only demonstrate that the spending is largely driven as a result of price inflation of weekly essentials with the discretionary purse remaining bare. Retailers continue to trade on paper-thin margins and the impact of further increases in business rates and staffing costs from this April will only add to the fears of further possible high street casualties.”


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Erin Dodds

Tel: +44(0)20 7758 3900

Email: [email protected]