Back-to-school brigade give retail figures a boost

Sales of schoolwear have given high street sales a helping hand. And boy did they need it.

by Hannah Prevett
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
The kids returning to school isn’t just good news for stressed-out parents – the nation’s retailers are benefiting too. According to the British Retail Consortium’s monthly monitor, retail sales in August rose by 2.8% compared with a year ago, thanks mainly to back-to-school wear, footwear and a small improvement in food sales.

Aside from picking up new shirts and ties for their sprogs, the BRC said shoppers were tempted in to stores to check out the new autumn/winter ranges (gosh, is it that time already?). Homewares fared OK too, with sales edging up, but they continued to be predominantly driven by deals and promotions. The real star of the show was non-food, non-store sales – internet, mail order and phone sales – which were 17.8% higher than a year ago.

And while the rest of us may prefer to forget England’s lacklustre performance in the World Cup, the tournament is to thank for a boost in sales at retailer Sports Direct. The company, in which Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has a 71% stake, said first-quarter sales were up 8.8% to £408m in the 13 weeks to 25 July.

But it’s not all good news for retailers. The BRC said August sales were ‘not strong’ and that they only look OK because they are being compared with abysmal figures from this time last year. It also said that sales of big-ticket items were being affected by continued consumer uncertainty over job prospects and job cuts, but also due to the looming VAT increase in the new year.

‘August 2009 was the worst month of the second half of last year so this year’s results are nothing to write home about,’ said Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, which carries out the research on behalf of the BRC. She said that it remains to be seen how the high street will hold up over the next few months. ‘Despite the recent improvement in consumer confidence, my view is that people remain worried about how they will personally be affected by the fiscal tightening measures. The impact on spending will become more apparent as we move into the higher volume autumn months.’

In other words, watch this space….

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