As children returned to school and Brits enjoyed a sunny bank holiday, the high street saw an auspicious start to September that was quickly dampened as news emerged of rising cases of COVID-19 and tightened restrictions, new figures 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 by -23.4% in September from a base of -3.1% for the same month last year. September had a relatively promising start with the first week of sales resulting in the second best weekly total in-store like-for-like since early March. That positivity, however, quickly receded as fears of a second COVID-19 spike weighed heavily on high street sales throughout the month. Nonetheless, total in-store LFLs did record the best monthly result since February supported by a strong first week of sales.
Since the onset of the pandemic, consumer spending habits have evolved with some sub-sectors thriving as others continue to face desperately difficult times.
Lifestyle in-store sales tumbled by -19.2% this month from a poor base of -5.4% last year. The result marks the eighth consecutive month of negative in-store like-for-like sales for lifestyle despite recording the best in-store result since mid-March during the first week of September.
Fashion in-store sales also plummeted by -30.4% from a base of -2.0% for September last year. The final two weeks of September saw worsening fortunes for in-store fashion like-for-like sales (-37.19% and -35.99%) keeping the category more than -30% below last year’s results for the seventh straight month.
Homeware in-store like-for-like sales remained flat (0.0%) this month, but from a similarly flat base of +0.2% last year. Buoyed by shoppers’ continued drive to improve their homes, in-store like-for-like sales for homeware had a good first week of the month (+21.26%), but three subsequent weeks of negative sales resulted in a flat result for September.
Total non-store like-for-like sales increased by +65.1% this month, from a meagre base of +12.4%. Online sales continued a longer-term climb down from pandemic heights and recorded the lowest weekly result since March at the end of September.
Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said: ‘While the first week of September provided a moment of positivity, the sustained threat of a COVID-19 second wave means retailers are remaining cautious over the near-term outlook, opting to place low levels of orders with their suppliers again this month. Activity in retail sales was picking up in the third quarter but there is concern that this will quickly fade amid rising nervousness as government support schemes which have helped to prop up jobs and businesses’ cash resources begin to diminish.
Furthermore, consumer confidence continues to be eroded with growing coronavirus cases, ongoing regional lockdowns and ever-changing restrictions imposed by the Government – as well as mounting job losses. The knock-on effect of all these factors, impacting the consumer purse, will be further deterioration of discretionary spend.
As we approach Black Friday and Christmas, retailers will need to consider promotional activity that takes account of social distancing and local lockdowns, and focus their resources on the channel with the best ability to drive sales.
It’s clear as we enter the golden fourth quarter that the outlook remains unsettled and retailers will be grateful for continued targeted support from the Chancellor. A worse-than-expected Christmas season coupled with a second lockdown could ignite an unstoppable series of further closures on the British high street and the demise of even more brands.’
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