We report as retail slumps to record lows both online and offline in May according to the latest British Retail Consortium figures. The BRC puts the figures down to retail conditions that are “the toughest they have been in a decade" and warns that job losses and store closures are now more likely. It also calls, once more, for the business rates system to be overhauled.
The figures also come soon after the date that we expected to leave the European Union, and it’s very likely that the continued uncertainty around Brexit has played a part in restraining growth. Certainly AO World, which reports full-year results today, had stockpiled ahead of March 29 - even though that stockpile proved not to be needed. AO’s European operations continue to keep it in the red, although its UK sales were strong and it is diversifying into a range of related activities, from recycling to third-party logistics. Schuh, meanwhile, says Brexit is behind its decision to pull out of the German market. The footwear retailer now wants to focus on its core UK, Ireland and Channel Island businesses.
Despite gloom elsewhere, Matalan has this week reported growth in its full-year figures, and says its strategy of combining online with stores in the UK and overseas while focusing on profitability and costs is the reason. We also see positive signs as Amazon tests pop-up stores featuring independent retailers, and as Waitrose tests its customers’ appetite for a range of practical steps to dispense with packaging in store. Such testing is to be welcomed as retailers work out what does work for customers at a time that’s no doubt proving testing for traders of all kinds.
Today’s guest comment comes from Neil Hammerton of Natterbox on the importance of creating a personalised customer experience.