British shoppers are increasingly seeking bargains to offset rising inflation and employers are finding it harder to recruit migrant workers, according to surveys published on Tuesday which reflected the impact of last year’s Brexit vote.
Total retail sales showed their strongest year-on-year growth in six years in April, but the jump largely reflected the timing of the Easter holiday which fell in March last year but in April in 2017, the British Retail Consortium said.
Rising prices for goods in shops – pushed up in many cases by a fall in the value of the pound – were also a factor behind the 6.3 percent increase in the value of sales, it said.
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“Looking to the longer-term signs of a slowdown, the outlook isn’t as rosy,” BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson said.
Consumers were focussing increasingly on saving money by buying cheaper, own-label brands from supermarkets and were being more cautious about non-food spending, she said.
On a like-for-like basis – which excludes new store openings – sales were up by 5.6 percent in April compared with the same month last year, the BRC said. They call it the “experience economy”: a huge shift in consumer behaviour is said to be under way, from buying things to doing things.
The demise of high street stalwarts BHS and Austin Reed, poor retail spending figures and a downturn in the number of people visiting high streets and shopping centres, are all being held up as evidence that Britons’ priorities are changing.
Earlier this year a senior Ikea executive warned that the appetite of western consumers to own ever more goods and chattels was probably waning. “In the west”, he warned, “we have probably hit peak stuff.”
Now retailers ranging from fashion to food chains are making similar observations, because official data shows that households are spending less on clothes and food but more on holidays, cars, entertainment and eating out. Spending on gadgets that keep people connected to the internet is also on the rise.
“We increasingly see a trend for consumers to spend more on experiences rather than on products,” said Kevin Jenkins, the UK and Ireland managing director of payment card group Visa Europe.
“Eating out, booking holidays and discovering new experiences are all driving spending growth at a time when the lower cost of living is creating higher disposable incomes.” Shopping is the national pastime. High streets, malls and retail parks have long been places people went for a day out, rather than on a mission to buy a particular item, and their spending helped lift the country out of recession. But a big drop in footfall – the number of people visiting high street and retail centres – over the past year has exposed fresh cracks in the high street, leaving retail chiefs wondering where all their customers have gone. shopping “Bullring Birmingham” Birmingham UK Shops Sale Discount economy clothes “United Kingdom” mall “shopping mall” London westfield people staff shop “high street” money savings consumer 2017 polo “mens clothing” “end of season sale” summer “summer 2017” social lifestyle cash “credit card” designer life work job city spending store selfridges england outlet “outlet mall” trends trendy entertainment Analysts are reporting declines in the number of shopper visits to high streets and shopping centres around the country of as much as 10% in some cities over the past year. Worries about the economic outlook, coupled with the rise of internet shopping, jitters about the EU referendum and more spending on eating out and leisure leave little cash left over for splurging in the shops.
“There is a lot of nervousness around [among retailers],” says Tim Denison, retail analyst at Ipsos Retail Performance. “People have had more disposable income but retailers have not been as successful as they could have been in taking their share. Instead any spare money has gone on leisure and holidays rather than pure retail spend.”
According to Ipsos’s retail traffic index, overall footfall was down 0.9% in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period a year ago. But that headline masks the fact that some towns and cities are faring much worse than the national picture would suggest.
The Ipsos data singles out Newcastle upon Tyne as the worst performer, with shopper numbers down a hefty 9.95% over the past year, closely followed by Stoke-on-Trent, down 8.1%. Other pockets of particular weakness were Chelmsford, Lincoln and Cambridge.

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