UK retail sector suffers as shoppers lack Christmas cheer

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(Source: Rappler | January 10, 2019)

Christmas delivered mixed fortunes for Britain’s retailers, earnings and data showed, as the sector battled a “perfect storm” of higher costs, fierce online competition, stretched household budgets – and Brexit.

The nation’s biggest retailer, supermarket group Tesco, toasted rising sales over the key festive period as the supermarket giant was buoyed by promotions – but there were disappointing updates from other big UK stores, namely Debenhams, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.

And in more gloomy news, overall UK retail sales saw zero growth in December – marking the worst performance for a decade, according to a survey from the British Retail Consortium and financial group KPMG.

“Retailers are battling a perfect storm of headwinds, with consumers lacking confidence… primarily because of Brexit, one would assume,” Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson told AFP.

Since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, a drop in sterling – making imported goods more expensive – has pushed up UK annual inflation and prompted many consumers to tighten their belts.

Brexit has also sparked widespread economic uncertainty because of the threat of a disorderly departure from the bloc at the end of March.

Rising costs and rents have meanwhile made physical bricks-and-mortar retailers less competitive – in contrast to online rivals.

Recent data from the GfK institute showed that consumer confidence in Britain fell to its lowest level in five years in December, as the purchase power of wages was eroded by Brexit-fuelled inflation.

Some 150,000 jobs were meanwhile lost in the nation’s retail sector last year.

At the end of 2018, music retail chain HMV collapsed into administration for the second time in six years, placing 2,200 jobs at risk.

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