BRITAIN’S retailers have kicked off the New Year in bullish form with more than three-quarters forecasting an increase in sales and in staffing levels during 2015.
Around two-thirds of store owners are also planning to invest more into their businesses, according to a survey published today by industry body the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
However, despite the upbeat outlook, a majority of respondents said weak consumer demand remained a concern, while there was a concerted call for a “fundamental” reform of the business rates system.
Helen Dickinson, director-general of the BRC, said: “It’s great to see British retailers optimistic about the coming 12 months. After a number of years battling against strong economic headwinds and shaky consumer confidence, it seems as though retailers are set for some cheer in 2015.
“However, given the tentative nature of the recovery in consumer confidence it’s natural that retailers are cautious about the longevity of the upswing we’ve seen recently.
“It’s also no surprise that the fundamental reform of business rates has come out as top priority for government action. It is an outdated and punitive tax.”
Recent official figures showed British retail sales rising at their fastest annual rate in more than a decade as the high street was boosted by the “Black Friday” surge. Sales jumped by 6.4 per cent in November, compared with the same month a year earlier, the strongest annual increase since May 2004. There was growth in all types of stores for the first time since December 2013, according to Office for National Statistics data.
There have been few indications yet of trading over the festive period, though Next reported a solid sales performance earlier this week.
The fashion chain, which does not run price promotions until its Boxing Day sale, said overall sales had risen by 2.9 per cent between 28 October and Christmas Eve, putting it on track to outperform its forecast of 1 per cent growth for the quarter to January.
With a flurry of Christmas trading updates due from other retailers over the next couple of weeks, analysts have speculated whether Next would continue to stand apart from most of the rest of the high street.
IG analyst Chris Beauchamp said: “Its rivals in the sector will have had a much more difficult Christmas, with margins likely to have been heavily affected by discounting.”
According to today’s survey, 76 per cent of retailers expect their sales to improve in 2015 compared with last year, while 67 per cent said their investment levels were set to increase. Some 78 per cent are likely to be employing more staff in the year ahead.
Dickinson added: “As the figures from our survey show, the retail industry will be doing its part to drive growth in 2015 by investing and creating jobs, but these efforts will be hampered if serious solutions to the burden of business rates are not found.
“We’re delighted that the UK government has decided to back British retailing by committing to review the business rates system and we look forward to working with government during the course of the review.”
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