British retail sales have suffered their most widespread annual drop since May this month, according to a survey published on Tuesday, which suggests that the latest lockdown is taking a heavy toll on many shops.
The Confederation of British Industry’s retail sales balance, which asks retailers to compare sales with a year earlier, slumped to -50 in January from -3 in December, below all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists.
“With the lockdown likely to remain in place in the near-term, retailers expect this weakness to continue,” CBI economist Ben Jones said.
The outlook for retail sales in February was -47, its lowest since July.
While the fall in sales was reported by a high proportion of retailers, the CBI said it expected the actual decline to be much less severe than in the first lockdown in 2020.
Retail sales were a relative bright spot for Britain’s economy, shrinking much less than the wider economy as shoppers spent more on groceries and things to improve their living space during lockdown.
Online sales have boomed, but many high-street retailers have struggled, especially clothing stores.
The CBI said it wanted finance minister Rishi Sunak to extend a property tax exemption for non-essential retailers that had been required to shut as part of the latest lockdown, which began on January 5.
By David Milliken; Editor: Andy Bruce