As household budgets are squeezed and big-ticket purchases are less affordable, the high street has had a hard time of late. Add news of a double-dip recession to the cocktail and few will be surprised that April’s retail sales were down on last year’s according to the CBI.
But it’s only by a slight margin: 39% of retailers reported a fall in sales volumes, while another third reported a rise. The resulting balance marked only a slight fall in sales. This is not necessarily bad news for retailers, since these results are not unexpected, and many are anticipating an increase in the volume of sales for May.
Whilst the high street has suffered a series of high profile collapses and closures in the last year, the sector as a whole is enjoying a modest improvement. The number of retail outlets in the UK actually grew by 4.9%, an increase of 858 shops nationally. This helps explain why the first quarter of 2012 saw retail employment rise by 0.4% (around 3,000 jobs) compared with the same quarter a year earlier.
The numbers are not mind-blowing but, as director general of the British Retail Consortium, Stephen Robertson, says, they’re a step in the right direction: ‘The small increase in overall retail employment for the first quarter of this year is encouraging but it is clear from our return to recession just how fragile any growth is. None of these jobs can be taken for granted.’
So firms are hiring, outlets opening and sales volumes expected to rise. But firms are still finding themselves in a bit of a rut whilst consumers continue to hold off spending on expensive products and instead spend on smaller ‘treats’, as Judith McKenna, CEO of Asda, told MT in a recent interview.
That shopping trip to Harrods will still have to wait, then.