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Retail Sales Sink Along with Consumer Confidence

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British retailers saw their overall sales levels sink 1.4 per cent during March as consumer confidence continued to slide.

The slowing of sales among retailers followed a 0.5 per cent decline in February, with most economists expecting to see a similar rate of decline last month as well.

Unusually high inflation rates and growing pressure on household finances are seen as the fundamental reasons why retailers are struggling so much for growth or seeing their sales rates fall.

A particular issue for millions of consumers has been steep rises in energy bills, which many retailers are themselves having to contend with.

Evidence of the extent to which consumers are currently lacking in confidence has been provided this week by the market research firm GfK, whose latest consumer confidence index shows a decline from -31 to -38.

Those numbers suggest consumer confidence across the UK is now at lows only previously encountered in July 2008 during the global financial crisis.

Expectations are that consumer confidence levels and retail sales numbers might decline further as 2022 goes on with inflation rates forecast to stay high and potentially go higher still in the coming months.

Evidence is certainly growing that consumers are cutting back on their spending in response to increases in their essential outgoings and a broad squeeze on household finances.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, has cited inflation issues and tumbling consumer confidence as the driving forces behind slowing sales among retail businesses.

“The cost-of-living squeeze has many consumers thinking twice about major purchases, while their expectations of future financial situation plummeted to lows not seen since the financial crisis,” she said.

“Retailers are themselves squeezed between rising costs of operations, exacerbated by the situation in Ukraine, and weaker demand from customers,” she added.

“Higher global commodity prices, rising energy and transport costs, and a tight labour market, are also taking their toll.”

Recent research carried out by Deloitte showed that among British chief financial officers (CFOs), the issue of rising inflation has now become a much more pressing concern than either Brexit or even the Covid pandemic.

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