The British Retail Consortium/KPMG Sales Monitor for July recorded a slight weakening in retail sales growth. Like-for-like sales increased by 2.2 per cent in the year to July, compared with 2.8 per cent increase year-on-year in June.

The rate of growth in total sales slowed from 5.2 per cent in June to 4.7 per cent in July and 4.3 per cent in August. The lowest figures since November 1999 were recorded for August. It was also the first time this year that like-for-like sales growth slipped below 2 per cent to 1.7 per cent. The August figures were weak growth figures from a low base, as August 1999 was also a disappointing month.

Price deflation and poor weather during much of July combined to dampen sales values.

Some retailers began their summer discounting earlier than last year - resulting in a boost to sales in June rather than July. Other retailers began their summer sales at the end of July, which will boost sales growth in August.

Internet shopping and factory outlets were two of the better performing formats during August.

Footwear sales sluggish
Some brands at the higher priced end of the women's market performed well in the summer sales. Men's footwear, though, generally saw disappointing sales, with little boost from the summer sales. Boat shoes, however, did sell well as this year's alternative to trainers for casual wear.

Children's sandals sold well, albeit at discounted prices, and teenage-branded footwear saw reasonable sales. The earlier return to school boosted sales in Scotland.

The good weather in August came too late for footwear retailers, serving to promote interest in the tail end of summer sale merchandise and discouraging early sales of Autumn/Winter collections. Children's footwear was hit by the later than usual rush for "back-to-school", which did not take off until after the bank holiday weekend. There were, however, some strong early sales of women's fashion boots.

Mixed results for clothing
Results were mixed depending on timing of summer sales compared with last year. The arrival of good weather at a time when a lot of summer clothing was discounted in the sales will have had implications for margins.

Sportswear and children's clothing were two of the better performing areas; the latter benefiting from early "back to school" purchases.

In ladieswear, quality fashion brands were a popular buy in the sales but lingerie and hosiery sales were disappointing. Menswear continued to underperform for most retailers.

Young fashion performed slightly better in August, with denim coming back into fashion.

Solid performance from mail order
Probably the strongest growth in sales units and value so far this year happened in July, but this was short-lived and didn't last through to August. Order sizes were boosted by aggressive end of season discounting. Demand for reduced price goods from the Spring/summer catalogues was extremely strong, but clearly this had implications for margins.

Ladieswear and childrenswear performed best, with the latter receiving a boost from "back to school" advertising. Menswear was less impressive, and footwear performed well in terms of units sold but less well on values. Early indications of sales from the new autumn/winter catalogues are promising.

From Peter Embling, Shoestyle