Sep 8, 2020
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Low footfall means city fashion stores are on the edge says BRC

Sep 8, 2020

The British Retail Consortium has issued a stark warning about the future for retail jobs – especially in fashion – on high streets and in city centres as it also unveiled its latest set of retail figures.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

It said that UK workers returning slowly to their offices could push many city centre retailers under as footfall is simply too low to make them viable.

Report after report has shown that footfall is picking up gradually but that in city centres it's still very weak and in Central London is down by more than half year-on-year. Given that tourist flows are also at a historically low level, shops in cities are suffering badly.

BRC chief Helen Dickinson said that remote working has continued to help sales in home goods, such as food, computing, furniture and TVs, and to have “permanently changed some consumers’ shopping habits, with online sales continuing to boom despite shops reopening in June”. 

But she added that city centre retailers “continue to be devastated by low footfall and poor sales. With rents accumulating and the September quarter payment date fast approaching, many retailers are hanging on by a thread. Unless businesses and government can successfully persuade office workers back into city and town centres, some high street retailers will be unable to afford their fixed costs. Government will need to act fast or September will see more shops close and more job losses realised.”

Overall, according to the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor, sales in August were up 3.9% year-on-year and 4.7% on a like-for-like basis. That came as online non-food sales rose 42.4%.

But overall, clothing sales are still weak despite the boost from back-to-school sales. And beauty sales are also anaemic, proving that this usually buoyant sector is facing challenges as well.

And sales in physical stores were down 18% in the quarter ending August compared to the same quarter in 2019, although this includes June when many physical shops remained shut for much of the month.

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