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Back-to-school rush fails to bolster September retail sales

Back-to-school sales failed to lift the overall performance of the retail sector in September, according to the BRC and KPMG. Picture: Getty Images/istockphoto

Back-to-school sales failed to lift the overall performance of the retail sector in September, according to the BRC and KPMG. Picture: Getty Images/istockphoto

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Retail sales figures were buoyed by groceries in September as the back-to-school rush failed to deliver hoped-for returns to non-food sales.

Like-for-like retail sales fell by 0.2% in the month, following a 1.9% increase the previous year, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG retail sales monitor.

Commentators said the results “laid bare” the increasingly difficult operating environment for retailers.

In the three months to September in-store sales of non-food items declined by 4% on a like-for-like basis and by 2.7% on a total basis.

Online sales performed better, with 5.4% growth in September alone. However, this is far below the 10.7% growth recorded in non-food sales in September 2017.

Food sales saw a sharp increase in the quarter to September – comparative sales grew 2.3% in the period and total sales were up 3.4%.

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “Like-for-like retail sales in September were down 0.2% on this time last year, but then last year consumers were remaining more defiant in the face of Brexit and shopping regardless.

“Grocery continued to perform, but growth in the category retreated in September. The non-food categories however, continued to disappoint. The historically reliable back-to-school push did not elevate apparel sales. Instead the latest tech launches were a rare source for optimism.

“Online retail continued to fare better. Even clothing sales managed to grab the attention of those browsing the web to refresh their wardrobe.”

Helen Dickinson, BRC chief executive, said: “These figures lay bare the difficult operating environment for the retail industry. After a challenging August, constrained consumer spending in September has resulted in the weakest sales growth for five months.

“Retail represents 5% of the economy and pays almost 25% of the business rates bill and this disproportionate cost burden is especially hard to bear given the current trend in sales. The effect can be seen in the fact that there have been 3,200 UK store closures in the past three years.”

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