Retail news round-up: Debenhams on the edge; In-store and online sales; Westfield is a winner

There are concerns for the future of Debenhams as the department store chain looks set to post the biggest loss in its 240 years history – almost £500million – and gets ready to close 50 of its 166 stores. The closures may results in as many as 4,000 job losses.

There is now even more pressure on the Chancellor Philip Hammond to announce a budget that’s friendly to the high street and levels the playing ground with online traders. As well as struggling to compete with the rapid evolution of the retail industry, Debenhams – like so many retailers – has also had to contend with sky high business rates, paying £80 million in rates over the past year compared to Amazon’s £14 million.

More than a quarter of English and Welsh department stores have been demolished or repurposed since 2010.

The UK high street is suffering the worst year on record, with in-store sales declining in eight of the nine months this year to date, according to figures from BDO. Its high street sales tracker for September shows that sales fell -2.7% YoY. However, the news was tempered slightly by non-store sales growth of 11.6% YoY. But even this was the third lowest monthly increase for non-store sales this year and the worst non-store September performance for at least eight years, according to the data. Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics reported that September’s sharpest monthly drop in food sales for three years was largely responsible for overall sales volumes falling by 0.8% month on month, while inflation slowed to 2.2% from 2.4% in August.

Last month saw the lowest September growth in UK online retail sales (+7.5% YoY) since 2014, with Gifts decreasing by 23% YoY, the biggest fall since March 2010, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index.

Westfield in London’s Shepherd’s Bush is the UK’s best-performing shopping centre, scoring 4.09 out of 5, according to GlobalData research. It was followed in second place by Westfield Stratford City, with Kent’s Bluewater finishing third.

Contactless transactions have overtaken chip and pin payments for the first time in the UK as consumers embrace more convenient forms of payment. Contactless usage jumped by 30% in the past year to become the most popular form of card payment for in-store transactions, according to payments processing company Worldpay.

Santander’s quarterly trade barometer shows that more than two-thirds of businesses are confident they will grow over the next three years. The bank said that UK business optimism had been ‘holding up well over the past 12 months despite significant headwinds – such as geo-political tensions and the uncertainly around Brexit’. Businesses that plan to begin trading internationally in the next 12 months are especially confident, with 75% expecting to grow. More businesses intend to invest in international expansion, with 69% planning to grow their international activities during the next year, a higher percentage than in any previous edition of its barometer.

UK consumer confidence fell by three percentage points in the third quarter of the year, down to -7% after the previous quarter’s record level of confidence. The first fall since Q2 2017 was principally driven by consumers feeling less optimistic about levels of disposable income and personal debt, according to the latest Deloitte Consumer Tracker.

The UK retail payments authority, formerly known as the New Payment System Operator/NPSO, has a new name and brand, Pay.UK. This follows the recent consolidation of the three retail payment schemes (Bacs, Faster Payments and the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company) into the NPSO.

Amazon has confirmed that it will open an office in the centre of Manchester next year focusing on software development and R&D. It will bring 600 jobs to the city.

Alan Monahan

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