Gifts Today magazine

Back in the black

UK independent shops returned to growth in first quarter, but outlook darkens

According to bira (British Independent Retailers Association), trading growth of UK independent shops returned to just the right side of zero in the January to March 2016 period compared to the same months in 2015.

The figures are very finely balanced, with just 52 per cent of members reporting increased turnover and 48 per cent logging declines. The balance of growth was a tiny +0.53 per cent. But this was a big improvement on the last quarter of 2015, when 43 per cent had gained, 57 per cent lost out and the average drop had been 2.35 per cent.

As industry sources have been reporting shop prices falling for nearly three years now - and by about 3 per cent a year - this is something of an achievement. And it comes against the background of high street institutions BHS and Austin Reed hitting serious trouble.

Results indicate that seven of the eleven product sectors tracked grew, whereas last time seven of eleven had lost out. Fashion and department stores continue to be challenged, while the big-ticket items in furniture, floorcoverings and beds continue to thrive.

What's odd is that while results have improved confidence has taken a hit and where only 30 per cent were anxious about the year ahead in January, 45 per cent are now. Is this generalised anxiety, or is it related to uncertainty about the EU referendum in June?

Asked the official referendum question with the added option of "Don't know" members answered like this:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
• Remain a member of the European Union - 38.6%
• Leave the European Union - 32.9%
• Don’t know - 28.5%

So, more voted to remain than to leave, but not by a decisive margin. Nearly three in ten haven't made their minds up - which makes for a fascinating run-up to the big day on 23 June. Will the votes go the to Leave camp? Will they go to support remaining? Will the votes split evenly? Will the undecided cast their votes at all?

One of the many comments (attached) on the subject summed up the difficulty for a lot of business owners: "Am still assessing the situation and trying to find any solid factual information to help me make a decision..."

bira members will have a second chance to express their opinions at the association's High Street Conference on 11 May when speakers from both campaigns, including Chuka Umunna MP, will make the cases for and against, before members vote and the count is announced at the close of the event. Details of the conference can be found here:

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