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Olympics distraction dampens August sales

Official figures have confirmed what retailers on the ground experienced during the Olympics, with August registering as the worst month for sales growth this year.

Retail sales value fell 0.4% on a like-for-like basis compared with August last year – which was itself down 0.6% on 2010 – according to the British Retail Consortium. On a total basis, sales were up 1.6%.

This was the worst month for sales since November 2011, excluding what the BRC described as “the Easter anomaly”.

The retailing body said the drop had been driven by “particularly weak non-food sales as the feel-good factor from the Olympics failed to inspire spending”.

London’s reduced footfall – a factor noticed by many traders during the period – dampened the “mild” boost to sales of party food and drink.

But even online sales were sluggish during the Games period, with growth of just 4.8% - the lowest rate since BRC began monitoring the platform in October 2008.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “It’s clear people were absorbed by the magnificent Olympics and had little interest in shopping, especially for major items.

“Usually-reliable online sales suffered, putting in the worst sales growth since we started the measure four years ago. Some retailers told us online activity was particularly thin in the evenings. If people weren’t watching television they were more likely to be following the sport on PCs and mobile devices than shopping.

“As summer gives way to the all-important Christmas run-up, retailers will be hoping sales that didn’t happen in August have been postponed and not lost entirely.”

Helen Dickson, head of retail at KPMG, added: “Retailers’ hopes that the Olympics would inspire a pickup in spending were dashed as shoppers stayed away from the high street and enjoyed the sporting spectacle from their armchairs. 

“While, without doubt, the Olympics brought a much needed boost to consumer confidence, the country was ‘otherwise engaged’ in August and the sales figures show a mixed picture. Those areas of spending which are most discretionary suffered, with women’s clothing, furniture, flooring and home related items hit the hardest.

“However, it could have been much worse.  August is traditionally a weak month for sales and it’s really the next three months that will have a critical impact on retailers’ profitability.  The challenge remains to accurately forecast outcomes in such a volatile trading environment.”

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