Worst year on record for retail

Worst year on record for retail

BRC–KPMG Retail sales monitor, December 2019


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Adjustment for Black Friday

The December figures are positively distorted by the late timing of Black Friday, which occurred in December 2019 as opposed to November in 2018. The 3-month and 12-month averages are not distorted.

In italics below, we have calculated 2-month average figures in order to correct for this distorting effect and, therefore, represent a clear picture of the festive period overall.

Covering the five weeks  24 November – 28 December 2019

  • On a Total basis, sales increased by 1.9% in December, against a flat 0.0% in December 2018.
  • Looking at the year-on-year change over November and December together to iron out the Black Friday distortions, sales declined 0.9%, which is worse than both the 3m and 12m average declines of 0.4% and 0.1% respectively.
  • UK retail sales increased by 1.7% on a Like-for-like basis from December 2018, when they had decreased 0.7% from the preceding year.
  • This is positively distorted by the timing of Black Friday, included in December 2019 but not 2018, and therefore higher than both the 3m and 12m averages of -0.9% and 0.5% respectively.
  • Over the three months to December, In-store sales of Non-Food items declined 3.5% on a Total and 3.8% on a Like-for-like basis. This is worse than the 12-month Total average decline of 3.1%.
  • Over the three months to December, Food sales were a flat 0.0% on a Like-for-like basis and increased 0.7% on a Total basis. This is below the 12-month Total average growth of 1.4%.
  • Over the three-months to December, Non-Food retail sales in the UK decreased by 1.6% on a like-for-like and 1.4% on a Total basis. This is below the 12-month Total average decrease of 1.3%. For the month of December, Non-Food was in growth year-on-year but positively distorted by the timing of Black Friday.
  • Online Non-Food sales increased by 12.8% in December, against a growth of 5.8% in December 2018.
  • Looking at November and December together to iron out the Black Friday distortions, sales increased 2.6%, which is lower than the 12m average of 3.3%.
  • Non-Food Online penetration rate increased from 31.2% in December 2018 to 34.5% this December. 
  • Over the two months of November and December, the Online penetration rate was 34.2% for 2019, against 32.4% for 2018, a 1.8 percentage points increase. Applying this to November, it points to a peak Online penetration rate of 35.8% in November 2019.


Paul Martin, UK Head of Retail | KPMG

“At first glance retailers’ relentlessness paid off in December, with total sales up 1.9%. However, the later timing of Black Friday will have skewed the outcome. If looking at November and December combined, sales actually declined by 0.9%.

“Consumers clearly favoured logging on to walking in, with online sales up 12.8% in December. However, if taking a two month average, growth online was clearly muted at only 2.6.%.

“Grocery is usually a winner during the festive season, although it is important to highlight that growth has been weakening recently and for many players Christmas did not deliver the results it has in the past.

“All growth will be welcome, although the true performance of Christmas trading is still to be determined. The cost of customer returns must not be overlooked. That’s especially true as online fulfilment already costs retailers a pretty penny. Christmas trading reports will likely be mixed, but those that have truly performed well will have managed margin and costs well over both the Christmas period and beyond.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive | British Retail Consortium

“2019 was the worst year on record and the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales. This was also reflected in the CVAs, shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019. Twice the UK faced the prospect of a no deal Brexit, as well as political instability that concluded in a December General Election - further weakening demand for the festive period. The industry continues to transform in response to the changing technologies and shopping habits. Black Friday overtook Christmas as the biggest shopping week of the year for non-food items. Retailers also faced challenges as consumers became both more cautious and more conscientious as they went about their Christmas shopping.   

“Looking forward, the public’s confidence in Britain’s trade negotiations will have a big impact on spending over the coming year. There are many ongoing challenges for retailers: to drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste. However, this takes resources, so it is essential the new Government makes good on its promise to review, and then reform the broken business rates system which sees retail pay 25% of all business rates, while accounting for 5% of the economy.”

Food & Drink sector performance | Susan Barratt, CEO | IGD

“December’s food and grocery sales ended 2019 on a downbeat note. Despite the influence of some inflation across the market, shopper spending was not as expected for such a key sales period. As a result, while the value of spending wasn’t down, growth was negligible and volumes declined - a rarity for Christmas in recent times.

“Despite their financial confidence remaining subdued, shoppers appear to be a little bit more optimistic for 2020. Fewer expect food prices to be more expensive, with 75% of shoppers taking this view compared with 78% in November. This is also first time since June’18 that just as many shoppers predict they will focus more on quality as saving money in the year ahead when food and grocery shopping (18%). With healthy options one of the top ways shoppers define products as higher quality, retailers and suppliers have an opportunity to engage with shoppers looking to improve their diets this month. As health remains the biggest driver for following a vegan or vegetarian diet we anticipate the plant-based trend to continue to gain traction.”


For Media Enquiries:

Simon Wilson

PR Assistant Manager, KPMG
             0207 311 6651
M            07785 373397

Tom Holder

BRC Press Office
T             0207 854 8924

Alexandra Crisp
Senior Communications Officer, IGD
             01923 857141
M            07590 183295


About the British Retail Consortium

The BRC’s purpose is to make a positive difference to the retail industry and the customers it serves, today and in the future.

Retail is an exciting, dynamic and diverse industry which is going through a period of profound change. The BRC is committed to ensuring the industry thrives through this period of transformation. We tell the story of retail, work with our members to drive positive change and use our expertise and influence to create an economic and policy environment that enables retail businesses to thrive and consumers to benefit. Our membership comprises over 5,000 businesses delivering £180bn of retail sales and employing over one and half million employees.

About KPMG in the UK

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