No boost from Olympics for UK high street

The UK's beleaguered high street failed to receive a boost during the Olympics, a report suggested today, while retailers' optimism took its biggest slide for three years.

The survey by the CBI business body found that 31% of retailers suffered lower sales volumes than a year ago over the first two weeks of August - a period that coincided with the Games - while 27% believed them to be higher.

The resulting balance of 3% that reported lower sales was worse than expectations and dealt a blow to hopes that a feel-good factor from the Games would help lift some of the gloom over the sector.

Although many retailers remained hopeful of a sales bounce in September, a balance of 17% expect the business situation to deteriorate over the next three months as sentiment weakened at its fastest rate since February 2009.

Judith McKenna, chairwoman of the CBI distributive trades panel and Asda chief operating officer, said: "Although this summer's events created a mood of celebration across the nation, these figures would suggest this positivity did not extend to the high street.

"However, although retailers expect the overall business situation to worsen in the coming three months, they still expect sales to rise year-on-year in September."

The survey of 134 firms found that a balance of minus 27% reported that sales volumes were below the average for the time of year.

Of the 13 sub-sectors, all reported a slowdown in the pace of sales growth apart from footwear and leather retailers, which saw a modest acceleration.

Big name retailers such as Peacocks and Game have gone into administration in recent months as the high street struggles amid the squeeze in consumer spending and shoppers shifting on to the internet.

While retail trends have generally been gloomy in recent years, the sector received a slight boost earlier this month when figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that a glut of promotions on petrol and high levels of discounting helped drive a surprise 0.3% rise in retail sales in July.

And the figure for June was revised significantly higher to 0.8% from a previous estimate of 0.1% after additional information was received from retailers.

There are hopes that some of the pressures on the sector may now be lifting as inflation falls from its peaks in September, easing the strain on shoppers' wallets.

This trend was confirmed by today's survey, with a balance of 31% of retailers reporting higher prices, its weakest reading since November 2009.

And it was also hoped that the Olympics would provide a further boost to the sector by lifting the public mood and attracting tourists from overseas, although today's survey casts doubt on that theory.

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