The high street has suffered its worst September in eight years as spending buckled under the weight of Brexit uncertainty, falling footfall and big-name closures, figures suggest.
In-store sales plummeted by 3.1% on a year ago after an already weak 2.7% drop, making it the poorest September since 2011, according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker.
Weaker discretionary spending resulted in the lifestyle category suffering a 5.4% drop, its worst performance since the height of the recession in November 2008.
As the Brexit date looms, the financial uncertainty facing consumers is reflected in the lack of discretionary spend and the lowest lifestyle sales since 2008
September also saw the end of a stronger run for fashion as sales fell by 2%, the first negative growth in three months for the category.
Footfall was down overall in September, starting with a decline of 2.5% and culminating in a drop of 5.8% as wet weather affected the country.
Shopping centres experienced the worst of the downturn with footfall dropping 8% in the last week of the month.
Consumers’ reluctance to spend extended online too, where sales growth was well below the annual average to reach just 12.4%.
Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “As the Brexit date looms, the financial uncertainty facing consumers is reflected in the lack of discretionary spend and the lowest lifestyle sales since 2008.
“This, combined with the collapse of a big household name like Thomas Cook, seems to have unnerved the shopper even further.
“Cash-strapped retailers are in dire straits. It has been a disastrous year for the high street and, as consumers continue to tighten their belts, they are entering the crucial ‘golden’ trading quarter on very unsteady ground.”
High streets minister Jake Berry said: “Rapidly changing shopping habits are a challenge for high streets across the country.
“To support local retailers we’ve slashed business rates by a third, bringing the total amount of business rate support to over £13 billion since 2016.
“We’ve also invested £1 billion through our Future High Streets Fund, and as part of our Open Doors Scheme we’re revamping vacant properties and providing free spaces for community groups in town centres to ensure our high streets are fit for the future.”