High streets hit by weather washout

Britain's under-pressure high streets suffered a washout last month as monthly retail sales fell for the first time in nearly a year.

Poor weather took its toll on high street sales in February, figures show
Poor weather took its toll on high street sales in February, figures show

Like-for-like sales dropped by 1% in February compared to the same period in 2013, as poor weather took its toll on town centre stores, according to figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG.

Web commerce continued to gather pace, with online non-food sales up 14.3%. But the impact of discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl helped drag down the overall figure.

The 1% fall in overall retail sales come as a disappointment after a 3.9% like-for-like increase in January. It is the first drop since last April.

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said: "February saw a hiatus on the high street, with online sales soaring while in-store sales stalled.

"There's no doubt inclement weather exacerbated this trend, but it certainly underscores the importance of having a sophisticated online operation.

"The grocery sector remains fiercely competitive. February's figures were impacted by the discounting campaigns launched by the value grocers, which caused a sharp slowdown of overall price inflation in the food sector."

"There were some bright spots amidst the gloom. The effects of a rapidly recovering housing market are already feeding through to the retail sector, with sales of furniture and home accessories remaining solid."

For the three months ending in February, the pace of like-for-like sales growth slowed to 1.2%, with food down by 1.7% and non-food up by 3.5%.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: "Overall, these figures reflect the considerable challenges still faced by consumers and retailers in the UK. It remains to be seen how the industry will fare over 2014."

In clothing, womenswear sales remained sluggish while knitwear had to be discounted because of milder weather.

Meanwhile, there was a marked slowdown in the growth of tablet computers, which now appears to have peaked, the survey found.