Worst February in a decade turns up the heat on beleaguered retailers

08 March 2019

High street sales left out in the cold despite warm weather and Valentine’s Day

High street retailers suffered the worst February in a decade for in-store sales, figures released today by accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP reveal.

According to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST), in-store like-for-like sales dropped -3.7% this month from a poor base of -1.6% for February last year.

Valentine’s Day, half-term holidays and the spell of warm weather at the end of the month failed to improve the fortunes of bricks-and-mortar retailers, resulting in the worst February figures for in-store sales since 2009.

Surprisingly, lifestyle retailers suffered the worst monthly result for in-store sales since November 2008, with Valentine’s Day failing to provide any of the expected uplift to the category. In-store category sales were down by -4.9%, making it the thirteenth consecutive month of negative in-store like-for-like sales and the worst February for lifestyle on record.

Fashion sales also fell in-store by -3.5% year-on-year in February, falling further from a base of -1.9% for the same month last year. The result marks the worst February for fashion since 2009 due to three consecutive weeks of negative like-for-like in-store sales.

While homeware in-store like-for-like sales had marginal growth of +0.4% last month, this was from a negative base of -4.2% for February 2018.

Negative in-store sales were recorded every week in February. The month began with total in-store LFLs declining notably in week one by -5.89% (from a negative base of -1.59% for the equivalent week last year) and by -1.42% in week two (also from a negative base of -1.32%).

In week three, in-store sales gained no benefit from Valentine’s Day as in-store LFLs experienced their most significant drop of the month (-6.55%) from a poor base of -1.07% for the same week last year. The final week of the month, which saw half-term holidays in many areas, decreased by -0.66% from a negative base of -2.42% last year.

Moving away from the high street, non-store sales also had a tough month, reporting sluggish growth of +12.4% in February (from a base of +15.8% for the equivalent month last year). This result was well below the long-run average and marked the lowest like-for-like for the month of February since 2010 (when BDO started tracking non-store sales).

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “Consumer confidence is teetering on the precipice and shoppers are resisting unnecessary spend. Lifestyle, a category that would normally see a lift thanks to Valentine’s Day, suffered the worst monthly result since 2008. It’s clear that shoppers are exercising extreme caution.

“It has been a tough start to the year for the sector and retailers are continuing to fill headlines with poor performances. Brexit uncertainty is proving to have a disproportionate impact on discretionary spending and there’s an increasing sense of nervousness among retailers.

“As the March quarter rent date draws near, and hard on the heels of the poor Christmas trading already reported, it will not be a surprise if we hear of more retail names announcing further structural changes as the sector realigns to this new retail world.”


Note to editors

Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP provides integrated advice and solutions to help businesses navigate a changing world.

Our clients are Britain’s economic engine – ambitious, entrepreneurially-spirited and high growth businesses that fuel the economy. 

We share our clients’ ambitions and their entrepreneurial mind-set. We have the right combination of global reach, integrity and expertise to help them succeed. 


BDO LLP operates in 17 offices across the UK, employing 5,000 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP has underlying revenues of £590m and is the UK member firm of the BDO International network.

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The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 162 countries, with 80,000 people working out of 1,600 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $9bn. 


Erin Dodds
Tel: +44(0)20 7758 3900
Email: [email protected]