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Retail news round-up: Sales; business and consumer confidence; surplus shops

Retail sales grew at their fastest pace since September 2017 in the year to June, according to the CBI’s latest Distributive Trades Survey. It also revealed that sales volumes were well above average for the time of year. Additionally, the survey reported a jump in growth in the volume of orders placed on suppliers.

The sales pick-up in June was driven particularly by a rise in non-store sales, department stores, durable household goods, and other ‘normal’ goods. However, the BDO High Street Sales Tracker indicated that sales were down 1.7% in June, the fifth successive month of negative in-store declines.

Confidence among the UK’s small business community has risen in recent months and now stands at a one-year high, according to the Federation of Small Businesses index. However, the latest GfK barometer of consumer confidence shows that people are feeling less upbeat.

A study by the Centre for Cities think-tank says that many British cities needed to ‘break their reliance on retail to thrive’ and should create a better environment for other firms. The report states that taking steps to repurpose surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland ‘will create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in – which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes’.

There are fears that a landmark case could result in around 40,000 cash machines in shops and pubs closing down if the Court of Appeal classes ATMs as independent premises with their own rates to pay.

The outcome could swell council coffers by an estimated £200 million a year. But it is expected that most shopkeepers, faced with an average additional rates bill of £5,000 a year, would switch off their machines rather than pay up. A judgment is expected by the end of the month. Consumer group Which? has revealed that in the UK around 300 cash machines are taken out of service a month.

A poll by online savings firm Groupon of 1,000 small businesses revealed that an ‘alarming’ number were not exploring how to capitalise on shoppers’ support, with more than two out of five admitting they had no strategy to attract new customers.

A few ‘top tips’ on ‘how to beat the heat in the workplace to keep your staff happy and productive during the summer’ have been issued by the Federation of Small Businesses. These cover air conditioning, dress code, flexible and regular breaks, avoiding rush hour ‘mayhem’, and sun protection and water provision. It also advises employers to ‘shop local and small for all ice cream and summer treats to hand out to your team’

The British Retail Consortium has warned in a letter to Theresa May and the EU’s Michel Barnier that almost 13,000 small retail businesses are at ‘high risk’ of collapse in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’. It fears that leaving the European Union without a deal could break the supply chain, creating waste and failed deliveries.

Marks & Spencer is teaming up with Microsoft to understand the full potential of how technology and artificial intelligence can improve the in-store experience for its customers.

Alan Monahan