High street retailers should brace themselves for one of the worst years on record in 2009, according to new research released today (9 December), with growth not expected to return until 2014.

The research, produced by Verdict Consulting for ActiveResilience, suggests retail spending growth on the high street (excluding grocery and internet sales) will shrink by over 4% next year.

This would be the largest drop since the research firm's records began in 1965.

It also believes this slower rate of growth, coupled with higher running costs, could potentially wipe GBP3.6bn (US$5.3bn) off the collective profits at leading retailers in 2009. And the average operating margin could fall 3.8 percentage points to just 2.8%.

Neil Saunders, director of Verdict Consulting, says 2009 will prove to be the real crunch for many shops.

"The consumer purse is under significant pressure and while a cut in VAT may help household budgets it is economic naïveté to think it is going to make consumers embark on a spending spree."

High street sales will decline by GBP17.6bn in a five-year period, from GBP157.5bn in 2008 to GBP139.9bn by 2013, Verdict says.

Part of the problem is that consumers have consistently spent more than they have earned over the past ten years.

The shortfall has been made up by savings and debt, which has left household finances in a precarious position and has decimated the appetite to spend.