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EDITORIAL The numbers are bad, but is it all gloomy in retail?

Image: Paul Skeldon/InternetRetailing Media

On the face of it, it doesn’t make for cheery bank holiday reading, but the latest round of figures on how the retail sector is doing isn’t perhaps as gloomy as it appears.

The latest IMRG CapGemini stats show that the growth seen in June across the sector has failed to continue into July – despite the heatwave – and that it has seen the worse July numbers in, like, forever, but still there has been growth.

Similarly, figures from Dun & Bradstreet looking at retail in Q2 suggest that the looming Brexit crisis and its attendant uncertainty are still hitting retail hard: shoppers are hanging onto their cash as they watch to see just how badly exiting the EU goes.

However, even here in amongst the gloom, Dun & Bradstreet do recognise that there is healthy growth in online retail and that, while retail businesses are going into liquidation, the rate of liquidations has slowed.

Together, these two reports show that we are on a knife edge, but that we are edging along that knife edge towards modest growth – and the worst may not yet happen.

While no one knows just what will play out with Brexit – the EU has form in being totally intransigent then gives ground literally at the 11thhour – it seems to be the uncertainty, rather than the fall out, that is causing all the problems.

Of course, a disastrous Brexit could tip the UK into recession, but then again so could the, err, recession that is poised to strike the EU regardless of the UK’s actions. Trade deals with the US – and others – may yet come to fruition opening up a huge potential growth sector across the globe. Or they may not.

The trouble is, like a financial market, the people hate uncertainty. Even in the last recession retail, especially online, continued to grow, albeit slowly. Once we know what we are dealing with.

So, as you sit back to enjoy the last heatwave of summer and look to the run up to what we all hope will be a successful Christmas, bear in mind that what is likely holding things back are consumer sentiments rather than anything tangible. And as all men know, feelings are hard to rationalise, but the tangible we can deal with.

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