ACCORDING to official figures, recession is behind us, but it seems that the average UK consumer may take a little more persuasion than the gospel according to the Office of National Statistics to part with their hard-earned cash.
Yesterday, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said October’s UK retail sales, down 0.1 per cent year on year, were the worst outside a seasonal period for 11 months, ending hopes that September’s more buoyant results would spark a retail revival on the run-up to Christmas.
Online sales did not escape the slump, with the BRC saying that the past three months include the two weakest growth rates of the past four years.
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BRC director Stephen Robertson said it looked like the modest sales revival seen in September was something of a false dawn.
“The disappointing figures are a reminder of the difficult economic realities many are still facing.
“Falling consumer confidence means people are limiting spending to essential items and are cautious about committing to big-ticket and discretionary buying.
“The recession may be officially over, but it will take a little longer for consumers to feel they can spend freely again. Retailers are holding less stock than a year ago and may choose to be cautious with pre-Christmas sales in order to protect margins.”
The general retail trend was echoed by Marks & Spencer, which reported falling halfyear profits yesterday as it counted the cost of its worst non-food sales performance for three years.
The retailer posted a fall in underlying pre-tax profits to £297m, from £307m a year earlier, after admitting to mistakes in its core womenswear range.
Under-pressure chief executive Marc Bolland offered signs of a turnaround since then, reporting a better-thanfeared 1.8 per cent fall in likefor- like non-food sales in the second quarter – a marked improvement on the 6.8 per cent slide seen in the first three months, which marked its worst performance since December 2008.
M&S said it had taken decisive action by improving buying and merchandising, while also overhauling its general merchandise team and hiring new managers – including former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl in the newly-created role of style director.
It was a different story at Primark, which has continued to resist Europe’s economic woes after an “exceptional”
year in which it racked up £3.5bn in sales and created 10,000 jobs.
The budget chain, which has 158 of its 244 stores in the UK, grew operating profits by 15 per cent to £356m in the year to September 15, parent company Associated British Foods said yesterday.