A shopper carries multiple branded shopping bags as he leaves the Selfridges Plc department store on Oxford Street in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

U.K. Retail Misery Endures as Sales Decline Most on Record

(Bloomberg) -- The woes afflicting U.K. retailers continued in April, with sales dropping and demand for staff easing.

Same-store sales plunged 4.2 percent from a year earlier, the British Retail Consortium said Wednesday. A 3.1 percent decline in total sales, while distorted by the timing of Easter, was the sharpest since the survey began in 1995.

Separate figures from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation showed that permanent staff appointments across the U.K. increased at the weakest pace for four months, with a “significant dip in the demand for retail staff amidst the high street crisis.”

U.K. Retail Misery Endures as Sales Decline Most on Record

As U.K. inflation eases, some retailers such as Next Plc have said the worst of the pressure may be over. Still, with real incomes barely rising and the economic outlook particularly uncertain because of Brexit, a quick turnaround in fortunes is far from guaranteed. Department store chain John Lewis Partnership has warned of a profit squeeze, while electronics retailer Maplin has collapsed.

Retail sales were boosted in April last year as the long Easter weekend occurred in the middle of the month. This year it began two weeks earlier, meaning gift purchases were made mostly in March. However, timing effects only partly explain the fall seen last month, the BRC said.

“Even once we take account of these seasonal distortions, the underlying trend in sales growth is heading downwards,” said Chief Executive Helen Dickinson.

Retailers are undergoing a torrid time, hit by the rise of online shopping and a consumer pullback in the face of rising prices and sluggish wage growth. Severe weather in the first quarter added to their misery, with official data last month showing sales plummeted in March. The sector has fallen almost 4 percent this year, underperforming U.K. shares as a whole.

U.K. Retail Misery Endures as Sales Decline Most on Record

A more upbeat picture of the British consumer is contained in the latest report from Barclaycard, which said Wednesday that year-on-year spending increased 3.4 percent in April after a slowdown in March. Still, the average increase over the past 12 months was just 3.1 percent, down from 4.3 percent in the same period a year earlier.

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