Outlook dims for retailers

Toy sales struggle as video games become more popular, according to BRC.
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UK retail sales have risen 1.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis, compared with February 2007, when sales were just over 3 per cent, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium.

The three-month trend rate of growth edged up to 1.6 per cent from 1.5 per cent in January for like-for-like sales, and to four per cent from 3.7 per cent for total sales, reflecting the continuing growth of retail space.

However, consumer confidence has fallen to an all-time low as shoppers remain price-conscious and reluctant to make large purchases. Discounting was still needed to tempt customers to buy.

Toy sales were difficult for many retailers, according to the BRC, as electronic games become more popular with children.

Stephen Robertson, director general, British Retail Consortium, said: “After a blip at the start of the year as clearance sales temporarily got customers spending, belt tightening began in earnest in February when the Christmas and New Year credit card bills came home to roost.

“Although a welcome boost was provided by this year’s early Mothering Sunday, which helped food sales as well as health and beauty, customers remained cautious.

“Both retailers and consumers are being squeezed by sharp increases in utility bills and fuel costs. So the Chancellor’s theme on Wednesday should be a Budget to revive the economy, rather than one piling on new taxes and regulations.”

Helen Dickinson, head of retail, KPMG, added: "February's figures are slightly inflated by the timing of Mothering Sunday this year, as spending in the lead up to it is included this month, whereas this occurred in March in 2007. Therefore caution about the outlook remains the order of the day."

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