27 July 2016

  |  CBI Press Team

News

High street sales see summer fall

Retail sales fell at the fastest pace in over four years in July, according to our latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

High street sales see summer fall

The survey of 132 firms, of which 66 were retailers, showed that sales volumes declined more rapidly than at any time since January 2012, with weaker consumer confidence a likely factor in the immediate period following the EU referendum. Companies expect sales volumes to decline at a broadly similar pace as this month in the year to August.

Within retail, sales by grocers, and furniture and carpets stores were the main drivers of the drop in overall volumes. But some sectors bucked the trend, with non-specialised department stores and retailers of footwear and leather goods reporting higher volumes.

Orders placed on suppliers dropped at the quickest pace since March 2009 and are expected to fall further in August.

In tandem with a weaker retail sector, volumes in wholesaling deteriorated at the fastest pace since April 2013 and are expected to fall further next month.

Meanwhile, sales within the motor trade continued to expand, albeit at slower pace than early this year.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI Chief Economist, said:

“While conditions in the retail sector have weakened, we should be careful about reading too much too soon, as consumers were likely to err on the side of caution in the immediate period following a vote to leave the EU.

“Current low levels of inflation and high overall employment should support consumer spending in the near term, although the impact of lower sterling is likely to feed through to higher inflation over time.

“What businesses and consumers need now is calm and decisive leadership, a clear timetable and a plan for negotiating the UK’s future outside the EU to restore confidence.”

 

Key findings

Retailers:

  • 24% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in July compared with a year earlier, while 38% said they were down, giving a rounded balance of -14%. This followed modest growth in the previous month (+4%). Sales growth is set to fall further in the year to August (-12%). 
  • 20% of retailers reported sales volumes to be good for the time of year, with 27% reporting them to be poor, giving a rounded balance of -8%, somewhat below the long-run average of -1%.
  • 9% of retailers placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago, and 42% placed fewer, giving a rounded balance of -34%. Orders are predicted to fall further next month (-24%, the weakest expectations since September 2009).
  • A number of sub-sectors saw reduced sales volumes: particularly grocers (-30%) and the furniture and carpets sector (-90%). But sales increased for non-specialised goods (+52%) and footwear and leather (+44%).
  • Growth in the volume of internet sales slowed in the year to July (balance of +23%, following +38% in June). The pace of growth dipped well below its long run average (+48%). Internet sales growth is set to remain fairly moderate in August (+29%).

Wholesalers:

  • 20% of wholesalers reported sales volumes to be up on last year and 40% said they were down, giving a balance of -20%. Wholesalers expect sales to drop further in August 2016 (-24%)

Motor trades:

  • 33% of motor traders reported that sales volumes were up on a year ago, while 12% said they were down, giving a balance of +21%, the same as in June, but down from a recent peak of +84% in March. Sales are expected to fall in August (-10%).