Retail news round-up: Beastly sales; rates rises hit stores; Amazon in top five

UK retail sales suffered their biggest quarterly fall in a year as the ‘Beast from the East’ kept shoppers away from the high street. Sales volumes fell 1.2% in March, compared with February. Sales of clothing, petrol and food all suffered, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Fifteen major UK retailers or restaurant groups have gone into company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) or administration in the 12 months since the April 2017 Business Rates Revaluation, Colliers International revealed. And John Webber, head of business rates, isn’t optimistic about the future. ‘These figures are as bad, if not worse, than the crash of 2008/09 when 16 companies went into administration – 12 in 2008 and four in 2009 – and we are only in April now.’

PwC/Local Data Company figures show that more than 28,000 shops have closed in five years, while 23,000 have opened.

Sergio Bucher, chief executive of Debenhams, said that online retailers have an unfair advantage over physical stores that pay business rates. He called on the Government to ‘make sure there is an even playing field’ after Debenhams revealed a near- 85% plunge in profits.

Hammerson has pulled out of a proposed £3.4 billion takeover of shopping centre rival Intu amid concerns about the health of UK retailing.

More than £4 in every £100 spent in retail in the UK last year was with Amazon, making it Britain’s fifth largest retailer after Tesco, Sainsbury’s Asda and Morrisons, Global Data has revealed.

House of Fraser has appointed KPMG to advise on a restructuring plan which reportedly could involve store closures, job losses and the option of a CVA.

Marks & Spencer said that the decision to close its Hardwick Grange distribution centre near Warrington – putting 450 jobs at risk – was part of its plan for a ‘single tier’ network to move products from suppliers to stores more quickly and at lower cost.

Harrods is running a pop-up charity shop with the NSPCC in London, which could be made permanent if successful. It stocks luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

Figures showing there were 206,100 apprenticeship starts in England between August 2017 and January, compared to 269,600 in the same period a year ago, have prompted business leaders to step up their calls for reform of the Government’s apprenticeship levy.

Alan Monahan