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BRC: Internet and mail order sales up 12.3% in February

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UK retail sales values fell 1.8% on a like-for-like basis, and rose only 0.1% on a total basis, from February 2008 the British Retail Consortium has reported.

“Food sales showed slower growth, partly inflation-driven, and non-food sales fell further below their year-earlier level as January’s clearance boost faded,” says the BRC. “Homewares and big-ticket items were particularly hard hit.”

Growth in non -food non-store sales (internet, mail-order and phone sales) slowed in February to show a year-on-year gain of 12.3%, down from 19.2% in January and a recent peak of 30.0% in December. “Thus they continued to outpace store sales,” says the BRC, “but the expansion is from a very low base, as non-food non-store sales account for only about 4% of total retail sales.”

“This continued the slowdown from the 30.0% gain in December,” the BRC adds.

“These are disappointing figures,” says Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium. “It’s now clear we were right to fear January’s surprise year-on-year sales rise was just a discount-driven blip. The short burst of spending unleashed by January clearances has largely vanished, replaced by sales as weak as most of last year.”

“Food sales are proving more resilient but every non-food sector, apart from children’s clothes, saw like-for-like sales down on a year ago,” he added. “Early February snow didn’t help but customers and retailers’ difficulties run deeper.”

“Battling falling sales — total, as well as like-for-like — is not a sustainable prospect for many retailers in the non-food sectors, particularly as the impact of rising import costs is also filtering through to their margins,” commented Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG. “More announcements of job losses and other cost cutting measures in the sector look likely in the short term.”

“Non-store sales of non-food goods are barely a twentieth of total sales but they were well up on last year while store sales actually fell,” says Sharon Hardiman, head of non-store retailing at the BRC. “Online and mail-order sales are not immune to the recession. February’s growth was sharply down on the previous two months.”

“Despite speculation, retailers found little evidence that severe snow early in the month boosted online sales to customers forced to stay at home,” she added.

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