High street sales dampened by storms and coronavirus fears

06 March 2020

Stores suffer seventh consecutive negative February, while online sales suffer too

While storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge hit the UK and coronavirus gripped global headlines, Britain’s high street retailers suffered a battering with the seventh consecutive February of falling in-store like-for-like 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 –0.9% this month from a dire base of -3.7% for February last year.

Year-on-year lifestyle sales were down -2.9% in February from a poor base of -4.9% last year. The disappointing result is the third straight February of negative in-store sales for the category, with the usually buoyant Valentine’s Day shopping spike failing to lift the category. 

Sales of homewares also fell by -3.6% this month, but from a marginal base of +0.4% for February last year. The dip was the first negative result for in-store homeware since August 2019.

Fashion sales saw a marginal improvement of +0.3% in February but weren’t even close to offsetting a negative base of -3.5% for last year.

Moving away from the high street, non-store sales were also weak throughout the month with only an increase of +6.0% from a relatively middling base of +12.4% last year. The result was the second worst monthly non-store like-for-like since 2010.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: “Bad weather and concerning headlines contributed to an already difficult trading environment in February. The poor performance in non-store sales contributed further to a disastrous month for retail across the board.

“It’s clear that shoppers are still exercising extreme caution. While some of last year’s uncertainty dissipates, it seems it’s being replaced with increased volatility. As the news of the impact of coronavirus continues to spread, and Britain’s high streets take a hit from February’s extreme weather, many retailers will feel the impact of the higher costs needed to absorb the disruption within their supply chains.

“With the Budget next week, businesses and shoppers will look to the government to see what measures are being taken to mitigate these risks. They also want the government to follow through on its promise of a “fundamental review” of the business rates regime, which is suffocating bricks and mortar retail. For retailers feeling the pressure, the Budget couldn’t come at a more crucial time.”


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 5,500 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP is the UK member firm of the BDO International network.

BDO’s global network

The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 167 countries, with 88,000 people working out of 1,800 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $9.6bn. 


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