UK retail defies Brexit gloom-mongers

UK retail sales increased by 1.1 per cent on a like-for-like basis from July 2015, when they had increased 1.2 per cent from the preceding year.

  • On a total basis, sales rose 1.9 per cent, against a 2.2 per cent increase in July 2015. This is the strongest growth since January.
  • On a three-month basis, total UK retail sales rose 1.1 per cent, in line with the 12-month average of 1.2 per cent.


Garden centre sales were well up in July, thanks to warmer weather.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "This month’s solid sales figures may come as a shock to some given the slew of early indicators suggesting that consumer activity was slowing in the wake of the referendum result. However, little has materially changed for most UK households in the wake of June 23, so it is not surprising to us that sales are simply responding to their normal underlying drivers. A heavy month of promotions proved very successful in appealing to bargain-hungry shoppers, boosting sales growth to 1.9 per cent, ahead of the 12- month average of 1.2 per cent.


"The big question for retailers is whether that success can be carried forward into full price sales. Whilst retailers continue to monitor the situation in the wake of Brexit, responding to rapid and complex change in consumer behaviour in the midst of a highly competitive market remains the substantive challenge. The industry is in the process of productivity-enhancing transformation, but Government needs to play its part to ensure that change is not suffocated by increasing costs."


KPMG retail head David McCorquodale said: "The sun shone down on retail fortunes in July with total sales increasing 1.9 per cent versus 2015. Warmer weather helped blow away some of the post-referendum blues, boosting the UK feel good factor and giving consumers a sense that ‘life goes on’ following the initial shock of the Brexit vote.


"The July heatwave put picnics and barbeques high on the agenda lifting sales of food and drink back into the black. Meanwhile, fashion sales improved markedly versus June as well-timed promotions, holiday preparations and some sunshine prompted consumers to supplement their summer wardrobes. Sales of jewellery and watches also improved as international consumers took advantage of the weaker sterling to splash out on more expensive purchases.


"This first full month of retail sales figures post-vote suggests that UK shopping patterns haven’t changed versus previous years. For retailers, plans to improve productivity remain top of mind to guard against recent increases to their cost base as well as making sure they can weather what are likely to be more uncertain times ahead."


IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch said: "Given the sharp drop in food and drink spending in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, a return to sales growth during July was very encouraging. As some of the economic and political uncertainties were resolved, shopper confidence began to recover. In July, 30 per cent of shoppers felt they would be worse off over the next 12 months; broadly comparable with the 27 per cent who said this in July 2015, but not the 49 per cent we saw immediately after Brexit. The next few months’ sales figures will hinge largely on whether we see the return of food inflation, following the drop in sterling. If so, this is likely to be a gradual effect."

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