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Online sales growth at its slowest for years despite Olympic effect

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Olympic success may have inspired confidence in the UK population as a whole, but it failed to inspire shoppers to buy on or off-line, according to new figures. Internet sales grew by just 4.8% in August, compared to the same time last year, today’s BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor found. That’s the weakest monthly growth since the British Retail Consortium (BRC) started tracking the category in October 2008.

But while online sales growth was weak, it was still ahead of the high street. UK retail sales fell by 0.4% on a like-for-like basis, compared to the same time last year. Total sales were up by 1.6%, compared to a 1.5% rise in August 2011. Both results were the lowest since November 2011.

“It’s clear people were absorbed by the magnificent Olympics and had little interest in shopping, especially for major items,” said Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC.

“Usually-reliable online sales suffered, putting in their worst sales growth since we started the measure four years ago. Some retailers told us online activity was particularly thin in the evenings. If people weren’t watching television they were more likely to be following the sport on PCs and mobile devices than shopping.

“As summer gives way to the all-important Christmas run-up, retailers will be hoping sales that didn’t happen in August have been postponed and not lost entirely.”

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said: “Retailers’ hopes that the Olympics would inspire a pickup in spending were dashed as shoppers stayed away from the high street and enjoyed the sporting spectacle from their armchairs. While, without doubt, the Olympics brought a much-needed boost to consumer confidence, the country was ‘otherwise engaged’ in August and the sales figures show a mixed picture. Those areas of spending which are most discretionary suffered, with women’s clothing, furniture, flooring and home related items hit the hardest.

“However, it could have been much worse. August is traditionally a weak month for sales and it’s really the next three months that will have a critical impact on retailers’ profitability. The challenge remains to accurately forecast outcomes in such a volatile trading environment.”

The monitor also found there had been a “mild boost” to food sales, with party food and drink selling well, but that the net effect of the Games was “minimal”.

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