UK retail sales edge higher in ‘challenging’ January

UK retailers battled tough trading conditions in January, reporting a rise in sales in a typically difficult month for trading.

Sales increased by 0.6% on a like-for-like basis from January 2016, when they had decreased 0.6% from the preceding year, according to the latest BRC- KMPG Retail Sales Monitor.

On a total basis, sales rose 1.4% in January, against a growth of 0.1% in January 2016. This is roughly in line with the three-month and 12-month averages of 1.5% and 1.6% respectively.

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Over the three months to January, non-food items declined 2.9% on a total basis and 3.6% on a like-for-like basis.

But clothing bucked the winter trend for non-food categories, with some retailers being able to scale back promotions, having shifted more of their stock during the festive sales, and saw encouraging early demand for their new season ranges.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The persisting tough trading environment played out at the start of the year with a mixed set of trading updates and subsequent announcements. Sales as well as profits are seemingly harder to come by.

“Against this challenging back-drop, 2018 didn’t have a bad start during what is traditionally a lean month, with sales creeping up in-line with the year’s average.”

KPMG head of retail Paul Martin added: “January typically presents retailers with a tough gig persuading shoppers to spend in what is a cash-strapped month for most. With that in mind, 1.4 per cent growth – or 0.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis – has to be seen as a success, albeit food sales continue to be the driver of this growth.”

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