First decline in household income for 30 years causes pain on the High Street

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported recently that in 2010 real household disposable income fell by 0.8%, its first drop since 1977.

A plethora of profit warnings from major high street retailers is therefore no surprise. JJB successfully agreed a new Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) for repaying debt, just two years after its last one. Oddbins’ attempts to agree a CVA were rejected which led to it going into administration.

Meanwhile travel company Thomas Cook announced a 6% fall in holiday bookings from the UK. Dixons announced that it was cutting capital expenditure by 25%. H Samuel and Ernest Jones, Argos and Comet all report falling sales. Mothercare is to close a third of its 373 UK stores and HMV has just sold Waterstones for £53 million to pay down some of its £170 million of debt.

Falling consumer confidence, the Government’s austerity measures and rising commodity prices have led to a steady erosion of disposable income. An April report indicated an increase in retail sales, up 0.2% on February’s, but this was attributed to non-store (internet) and small store sales and probably conceals a continued decline in High Street sales.

After a few years of expansion fuelled by debt, it is entirely logical that the marketplace is now facing a sharp contraction as consumers spend less money while they are concerned about their job security and repaying their huge levels of personal debt.

Many companies need to contract and reduce their cost base if they are to survive. For the High Street retailers this means concentrating on profitable stores and reviewing strategy.

Growth is likely to involve developing experience based retail outlets in dedicated shopping environments or direct sales such as online. The High Street has failed to reinvent itself and the recession has accelerated its decline.

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