The unexpected February retail sales figures sparked inevitable questions about whether we are on the verge of a sustained period of growth.
Comment: Sales growth must not derail fair rates for retail campaign
The unexpected February retail sales figures revealed this week have sparked inevitable, but premature, questions about whether we are on the verge of a sustained period of growth.
There was certainly much to cheer. But the idea the data represents the first green shoots of recovery is foolhardy, and, as such, the numbers must not be allowed to derail pressure on the Government to freeze business rates and support retailers’ own efforts to fight their way out of the crisis.
According to British Retail Consortium numbers, retail like-for-likes jumped 2.7% in February, representing the fastest growth since December 2009. Earlier in the week, BDO’s high street sales tracker registered a 3.9% climb in like-for-like sales, the best result since December 2011.
Encouragingly, the growth was seen across a number of sectors, with big-ticket retailers recovering particularly well, driven perhaps by the improved housing market.
But, while it would be churlish to dismiss all signs of an improvement, a number of questions remain unanswered.
Not only does the growth contradict the prevailing mood among store chiefs and jar against the backdrop of 2013’s growing list of retail failures, it also flies in the face of other key economic indicators, not least the most recent figures for the manufacturing and construction industries.
And this remains the reality that must shape retail strategies for the foreseeable future and the one in which the Government must make its decision on business rates. This growth, as heartening as it is, does not constitute a recovery. But it is evidence of what retailers can achieve should the Chancellor choose to lessen the burden and set free the sector’s ability to create a genuine revival.
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