“Worst December in 10 Years”: Brick-and-Mortar Retail in the UK Faces Overindebted Consumers

But online sales are hot, now at 20% of total retail. 

By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.

It’s a confusing picture. A monthly survey of retailers published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) indicated that just 4% of retailers reported good sales volumes for January, whereas 41% said they were poor, giving a balance of -37%, the lowest since November 2011 (-39%). Sales volumes fell in the majority of retail sub-sectors with clothing (-43%), footwear & leather (-53%) and hardware & DIY (-40%) posting the largest declines.

“Pressures on the retail sector remain high, with consumer spending expected to remain fairly subdued and competition fierce,” said CBI Chief Economist Rain Newton-Smith. This competition is mostly online retailers.

This comes after “the worst December sales performance in ten years,” with 0% year-over-year growth despite sharp discounts, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

“The retail landscape is changing dramatically in the UK, while the trading environment remains tough,” the BRC said and being a lobbying body, blamed the government: “Retailers are facing up this challenge but are having to wrestle with mounting costs from a succession of government policies – from the Apprenticeship Levy, to higher wage costs, to rising business rates.”

The government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) confirmed the slowdown in total retail sales at year-end, but given the surge in online sales, came up with less dreary numbers. It says that seasonally adjusted retail sales, including the booming online sales, in December fell by 0.9% from November; and fourth quarter sales declined by 0.1% seasonally adjusted from the third quarter. But on a year-over-year basis, December sales were still up 3.7%, thanks largely to the boom in online sales, but also higher fuel sales and food sales.

Online sales surged 13.9% in December year-on year, according to the ONS, and accounted for 20% total retail sales in December. That’s up from just 5% ten years ago and double the share online retail in the US.

This rapid shift to on line retail is a trend that poses a serious threat to the long-term — and in some cases, short-term — viability of many high street stores, although a lot of those same stores do have online channels. But that’s not the only reason for the pain. There’s also, of course, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, of which the CBI is one of the most vocal opponents.

As the financial fallout grows on the British high street, the number of companies entering administration rises. Others, including big store chains like Debenhams, Marks&Spencer and John Lewis, have unveiled store closures and major job cutbacks. According to the Retail Employer Monitor, published by the BRC, as many as 70,000 retail jobs were lost last year. During the same period an estimated 1,267 chain stores were closed or earmarked for closure.

And it’s not just Brexit uncertainty or the unstoppable rise of Amazon and its ilk that threaten the future of UK’s high street chains. There’s also the issue that the UK’s debt-laden consumers may have reached their limit.

British household finances, among the most solvent a generation ago, are among the most indebted today. At last count, unsecured consumer debt — such as credit cards and personal loans, but not including housing related debt, such as mortgages — had soared to a record high of more than £205 billion ($271 billion). But according to the Bank of England’s latest quarterly credit health check, the trend may be reversing. Unsecured consumer debt could be in the process of witnessing its biggest decline since records began 12 years ago, partly as a result of regulatory changes and partly due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the central bank recently warned.

While this shift by consumers is long overdue, it could not have come at a worse time for retail sales that have grown dependent on unsecured consumer debt. For the UK’s high street retailers, the effects are already being felt. By Don Quijones.

Consumers have already cut back on car purchases, and it’s getting serious. Read… UK Auto Sales Plunge 12% in 2 Years, Diesels in Death Spiral

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  54 comments for ““Worst December in 10 Years”: Brick-and-Mortar Retail in the UK Faces Overindebted Consumers

  1. Bobber
    Jan 26, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Why would UK retailers complain sales were bad when they rose 3.7% overall year to year? That’s a better return than the system allows me on my savings. The whining by businesses these days is comical but also sad.

    • Jan 26, 2019 at 11:28 am

      Bobber, total retail sales rose 3.7% on the strength of mostly the online sales boom, and to a lesser extent fuel sales, and grocery sales. But what about the brick-and-mortar retailers that sell shoes, clothes, cosmetics, electronics, appliances, cars, hardware, etc.?

      This is the same issue in the US, with online sales growing in leaps and bounds, and brick-and-mortar department stores and other mall retailers getting wiped out, one after the other as time goes by.

      • Bobber
        Jan 26, 2019 at 1:21 pm

        What’s the cause of it? If it’s a failure to identify trends and innovate, I don’t feel sorry for them. If it’s the result of unfair competition because behemoths like Amazon are subsidizing online businesses with unrelated profitable businesses, I’d have more sympathy.

        As a somewhat unrelated matter that impacts several industries, it would be interesting to compare the size of businesses today (in terms of profits) to historical periods, when economic growth was better and wealth was spread more evenly. I’m not an expert in that area, but it seems like businesses are getting larger and larger in banking, retail, services, etc. The bulk of profits seems to be flowing to fewer businesses.

        In terms of S&P 500 profits, at least, it seems like the top 10 profitable companies (Apple, Microsoft, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, etc.), seem to garner a much larger share of total profits. Competition regulators should be looking at this.

        • RepubAnon
          Jan 26, 2019 at 2:57 pm

          The more interesting question is what happens to an economy based on selling stuff to consumers- when those consumers’ jobs have been eliminated?

          At some point, probably soon, the well of consumerism will run dry.

        • Bobber
          Jan 26, 2019 at 3:42 pm

          RepubAnon,

          I think the two concepts are related. Imagine if we broke up JP Morgan into two banks. Suddenly, the market would require twice the administrative staff. This is good for job creation and dispersion of income to the consumers you mention.

          Some may say this would be inefficient, but it’s not. There’s a balance that must be maintained between economy of scale (i.e., efficiency) and concentration of wealth. When either gets out of balance, the overall economy suffers. Today, we have too few enterprises capturing the wealth for sake of efficiency, and this has led to immense concentration of wealth and suppression of demand. It is time to break up some large companies to disperse wealth creation so that a greater share of the population benefits. This isn’t about taking wealth from those who earn it. This is making sure people actually earn their wealth through competition. It’s capitalism at its best, and the lack of it is a worldwide problem right now.

        • backwardsevolution
          Jan 27, 2019 at 12:34 am

          Bobber – excellent reply to RepubAnon! “There’s a balance that must be maintained…” As with everything in life, if there isn’t a healthy balance, there is trouble. So too with the economy.

        • C
          Jan 27, 2019 at 3:57 am

          In the US, we have a primarily service-based economy. In other words, we’ve long ago moved manufacturing jobs overseas. And all the protectionism you can have in your own country won’t protect you anymore when another country innovates and leaves your economy behind.

          The media jumps on “jobs lost” because innovation typically results in many people benefiting somewhat, while a few lose greatly.

        • Bearly
          Jan 27, 2019 at 6:58 pm

          The jobs offered by online stores compared to retail stores are very different. Retail jobs require some human contact and skills. The online store has jobs in a warehouse where an employee is pushed to fill many orders, and if they meet that goal then the target is raised. Even the online customer service “agents” are graded on how fast they get you off the phone and take the next call.

          And of course, the goal coming soon will be to have all of these jobs filled by robots. A computer form takes the order, a robot ships the order from a human-free warehouse. Customer service is another computer form or an AI like Siri. You’ll probably be charged extra if you have to talk to a human being.

          And then the talking heads on TV will be scratching their heads wondering why all the unemployed people aren’t buying their expected quotas? But we will still be told that this is progress!

        • char
          Jan 27, 2019 at 7:22 pm

          DIY is very dependent on house sales.

  2. Jan 26, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    U of Mich Consumer Sentiment is down 7.7%. After you factor in the government shutdown (which is not resolved) it might not seem so bad, though you wonder if this might cause consumers to save more. In UK they are probably hunkering down for hard Brexit.

    • Cashboy
      Jan 27, 2019 at 12:58 am

      I can assure you that 90% of UK citizens are not in a position to be able to save at all. Like the USA, theya re living from pay cheque (UK spelling) to pay cheque.

  3. Unamused
    Jan 26, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Many modern business strategies are little more than get-rich-quick schemes that disrespect realities which must be addressed to establish a viable business. These strategies are particularly prevalent in retailing.

    Retail strategies which enable effective use of both brick-and-mortar and online channels have not been at all difficult to evolve but have been resistant to adoption, typically by lack of engagement by management.

    It is essential to remember that the success or failure of any enterprise is by definition the responsibility of management, and examples of managers who are neither honest nor enlightened are abundant and comprise the majority population in the bankruptcy courts. Keep in mind that Toys R Us and Younkers did not fail because of changing market conditions or financial conditions, but because they were deliberately liquidated for the one-time profit of takeover pirates at the expense of all other stakeholders.

    As for the present article, well, bleeding the corpse your customer base hasn’t really proven to be that great a strategy, now has it?

    • Javert Chip
      Jan 26, 2019 at 6:17 pm

      Your dystopian scene of a healthy Toys R Us successfully frolicking in some idyllic green retail pasture before it was savagely attacked and destroyed by a nasty PE best is highly inaccurate. Unlike your claim, Toys R Us WAS NOT “…deliberately liquidated for the one-time profit of takeover pirates at the expense of all other stakeholders…”. It was a long-failing business model:

      o Toys “R” Us problems were, in fact, mainly self-inflicted by years of incompetent management long before the 2005 PE take-over

      o Before the PE takeover, debt was downgraded to junk bond status in January of 2005, (Amazon was then 4% its current size)

      o Big-box (especially WalMart) and Amazon competition was quickly increasing

      o Management attention on pre & post-PE buy-out debt failed to focus on the customer experience, and Toys R US fell further behind

      o Even after the PE buy-out, management failed to close store & adapt merchandising strategies (and pricing)

      o Toys R Us stores were too big, inventory poorly merchandised and customer service totally missing

      o Competitors (WalMart, Target) offered one-stop shopping: pick up a toy as well as other consumer essentials (food, etc)

      Yea, PE loaded it up with debt, but customers were already voting with their feet (and wallets).

      • Unamused
        Jan 26, 2019 at 7:57 pm

        Well, that’s the vulture capitalist line, isn’t it? SOP arguments in bankruptcy courts.

        =>Yea, PE loaded it up with debt

        Sure did. Toys “R” Us had a debt load of $1.86 billion before it was bought out by Bain, KKR, and Vornado. Immediately after the deal, it shouldered more than $5 billion in debt. Naturally the extra debt was not intended to help the company. It was to successfully turn it into a debt peon to maximize its profitability as a victim.

        By 2007, according to Bloomberg, interest expense consumed 97 percent of the company’s operating profit. Notice that Bloomberg did state that it was indeed still making a profit. Toys “R” Us was still paying interest on loans it got from KKR and Bain up until 2016, as well as millions a year in “advisory fees” for unspecified services rendered.

        Clearly the goal was extraction and liquidation, because that’s what these companies do, so that creditors, vendors, and employee pensions get left holding the bag.

        Brick and mortar retail is particularly susceptible to targeting by PE firms, relative to online retail, for one very simple reason: they hold real estate that can be very profitably leveraged, separated out so the resulting real estate holdings can be used to profitably bleed the targeted retailer. Happens all the time.

        Like stock buybacks, leveraged buyouts weren’t always legal, for reasons which should be obvious, but they’re legal now, for equally-obvious reasons: they make the politically-connected into billionaires. Even when they’re caught pushing the legal envelope, the vultures do not admit any wrongdoing in the course of their plea bargains.

        In other countries where private equity has a meaningful presence in the market, it operates with more restrictions. Germany and Denmark make it far costlier for a private-equity firm to seek layoffs to increase profit margins, for example. And so forth.

        The economy existed long before private equity. I think it can exist without private equity.

        • kitten lopez
          Jan 27, 2019 at 4:49 pm

          you absolutely bloom whenever anyone disagrees with you.

        • Unamused
          Jan 28, 2019 at 12:00 pm

          Us flowers, we like manure.

        • kitten lopez
          Jan 28, 2019 at 12:29 pm

          “Us flowers, we like manure.”

          oh man that was so good…
          as a comeback and a philosophy.

        • Javert Chip
          Jan 28, 2019 at 9:11 pm

          Lotta words, but not an argument for your original thesis of a healthy Toys R Us being savagely torn apart & consumed by a malignant PE beast.

          Your charge “….Clearly the goal was extraction and liquidation, because that’s what these companies do,..” is inaccurate on its face: The LBO was done in 2005 & the liquidation was done in 2018 – that’s 13 years.

          As I said in my original post, Toys R Us problems were self inflicted and began years before the LBO. Toys R Us had 13 years to adapt/correct/remediate their business model (poor merchandising & crappy customer service) before the liquidation.

        • Unamused
          Jan 28, 2019 at 10:53 pm

          You were refuted definitively, Javert. Anybody can read the thread, and Faux News tactics aren’t going to work here.

          Bain itself has stated that it sucked two billion out of Toys ‘R’ Us. No telling how many billions KKR got except that they got more. And it is known that the company did make operating profit and that these PE firms appropriated nearly all of it. Not something such a company can survive, so they bankrupted the company to get the rest. The evidence is on my side here. You lose.

          Financial crime in the US is grossly underreported but is known from court filings to exceed $2 trillion every year. Clearly corrupt and destructive but legal dealings cost another $2 trillion at least. Perhaps I should start making a point of slipping in some pointed statistics and scandals with later posts and include title references. You wouldn’t mind, would you?

        • Javert Chip
          Jan 28, 2019 at 11:32 pm

          Basically no argument PE sucks value from dying companies…but PE focuses on essentially dying companies. 99% would go bust with or without PE.

          Healthy companies have no need for PE.

          Your claim PE ruined a supposedly healthy, vibrant Toys R Us is still incorrect. Toys R Us was in miserable shape when it did the 2005 LBO.

    • Cashboy
      Jan 27, 2019 at 1:08 am

      If you look at online sales from Ebay, 80% of the items are coming directly from China.

      Ebay and Amazon platform cost 10% of the sales item. Shop rent, commercial building tax, light and heat costs more than 10% and then there is the shop fitting and staff and theft.

      In the UK, you spend too much time getting to the shops and finding parking which you then have to pay for.

      In the UK, the law is that if you buy on line (customer not present), you are able to return the item and get a full refund which otherwise is at the discretion of the shop.

      Shops in high streets of the Uk are doomed.

      • Cynic
        Jan 27, 2019 at 5:27 am

        Not only that, but in the UK city authorities with Green ‘strategies’ -rarely thought-through – are making it ever harder and more expensive to get your car to the shops.

        One cannot do a week’s food shopping for a family -let alone any other purchases such as clothes – and take it home on a crowded eco-bus, so less expensive towns nearby benefit, or people shop online -this is quite well-developed now in the UK.

        It is also clear that retailers, banks, etc, are starting to pull out of even quite prosperous cities, leaving physical shoppers truly up the creek – really the disintegration of civil life in some areas.

  4. 2banana
    Jan 26, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    The irony is that, today, Amazon is typically the higher cost option for purchasing goods. Sometimes 2-3x more expensive. You pay for convenience.

    Shipping costs will only rise. Returns more expensive.

    You would think brick/mortar businesses could take advantage of this…

    • Javert Chip
      Jan 26, 2019 at 6:39 pm

      2banana

      I accept what you’re saying at face value “…Amazon is typically the higher cost option for purchasing goods…”.

      However, as a long-term & frequent Amazon shopper (including price compare with other vendors), I very seldom (less than 5%) see Amazon as the higher price alternative (even including free shipping). Maybe we’re shopping in different areas: I spend a few thousand a year and my orders are typically in the $50-300 range, so I’m not buying trivial items (eg household supplies).

    • c
      Jan 27, 2019 at 4:06 am

      Well, we still have b&m stores, from CostCo to Walmart, so b&m’s deaths are overrated. While b&m cannot compete on price, they can compete on convenience and time. Perishable goods, such as groceries, are an example, although that’s changing as well. Some goods are bought at small quantities (eg. a can of spray primer or a package of bandages) that their higher price of, say, less than a dollar, is worth the convenience of having the item the same day, or when the product is better judged in person (eg. clothing).

      Innovation doesn’t always make something obsolete. Theater attendance declined dramatically when televisions were invented, yet theaters are still commonplace (though not necessarily doing terribly well). The internet now competes with television. Steam and free PC and smartphone games compete with consoles.

  5. Gershon
    Jan 26, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    The reverse wealth effect caused by the central bankers’ Ponzi markets and asset bubbles crashing back to earth as the QE punchbowl is taken away is going to pauperize all those UK “homeowners” who just had to get up on that property ladder even though prices were clearly in a massive bubble. Now that the true price discovery is starting to impose itself, trillions in fake “wealth” is going to be wiped out and over leveraged borrowers are going to be wiped out in their millions.

  6. Tony Mike
    Jan 26, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    It’s called austerity for the poor and gouging for the rich. Save their economy and get rid of the parasitic royals.

  7. This Town Needs An Enema!
    Jan 26, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    Some say a comet will fall from the sky

    Followed by meteor showers and tidal waves

    Followed by fault lines that cannot sit still

    Followed by millions of dumbfounded dipshits

    Fret for your figure and
    Fret for your latte and
    Fret for your lawsuit and
    Fret for your hairpiece and
    Fret for your Prozac and
    Fret for your pilot and
    Fret for your contract and
    Fret for your car and
    Fret for your shit dog and
    Fret for your Instagram

    It’s a Bullshit, three, ring, circus sideshow of Freaks

    some say the end is near.
    Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon.
    I certainly hope we will.
    I sure could use a vacation from this

    One great big festering neon distraction

    the only way to fix it

    is to flush it all away

    • HowNow
      Jan 26, 2019 at 8:19 pm

      “Enigma-tic”

  8. Atu
    Jan 26, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    Well….it is quite hard to gain a clear idea where the UK is headed. Most of what we read is political pressure acting on stressed out people who are up to the hilt, idealistic, or clueless. As those are maybe all the same category somehow, and probably includes myself, it would likely be better if I left this comment here. Unfortunately I won’t. So just looking at say gdp per capita

    https://ourworldindata.org/economic-growth

    there are some nice charts there, though the gini is not included. Basically we are all rich…and obviously a lot of people aren’t enjoying it, either that or there is some other kind of malaise (like greed, poor planning, over-expectation, government… I could name more) that effects society, or the wealth really is in the hands of the 0.00000000000001% etc.

    However let’s assume that in many ways it is not the quantity, but the change, that people react to more. The author there sticks to the theme of a Malthusian economy shifting to a positive sum game. However I would question that. Increases in technology and productivity, though provenly take place faster in higher density populations, do not change the factor of the claim on wealth created by a higher population, and eventually on resources. In other words, all that happens with a “positive sum” game is that activity speeds up according to a larger population, the plus being the accumulation of knowledge and method over time (shorter in this case due to higher population). It is still a zero sum game as far as repartition is concerned – could have played out over twice the timescale with always only half the population for example. Due to the speed of evolution though, the aforementioned change that is as sought after as it is disorientating , is having as profound an effect on people and their expectations as it is on the world of ways it is displacing.

    That all leaves me as clueless as before I started the comment, so really I should just leave it there :-) .

    • Unamused
      Jan 26, 2019 at 8:34 pm

      =>Well….it is quite hard to gain a clear idea where the UK is headed.

      Not at all. It is headed down.

      The British economy has been run by the aristocracy for centuries. Now that it can no longer plunder Ireland and India and other colonies it’s resorted to cannibalizing Old Blighty itself as best it can.

      I’m not interested in providing a detailed picture, but it’s worth pointing out a couple of things.

      Firstly, the Crown is the ultimate owner of all land in Britain, granted in ways so legalistically complex that controls land is one of England’s most closely-guarded secrets, and who control the land controls the wealth.

      Secondly, the City of London is the only part of the country over which Parliament has no authority, but it does have an MP in the Commons, called the Remembrancer, who has exactly one function: the remind the government that the City is never, ever to be bleeped with. The City’s purpose is not merely as a world ‘financial center’ but more precisely to extract wealth from Britain and elsewhere for the benefit of the aristocracy, particularly with respect to its global investments, like the £44 trillion (at least) it’s known to have lifted from India. The Brexit, in one aspect, is intended to allow the City’s financial relationships to be organized more profitably, regardless of the cost to commoners, who can expect to lose out no matter what the outcome.

      I don’t believe you’re clueless. I think you’re just boggled at the enormity of the injustice, which really is rather a lot to try to process.

      • kitten lopez
        Jan 27, 2019 at 5:07 pm

        you always have the best face-punching lines that show how truly existentially horrifying this all is in a way that makes you laugh a blood-curdling buddha laugh:

        “I don’t believe you’re clueless. I think you’re just boggled at the enormity of the injustice, which really is rather a lot to try to process.”

        • Unamused
          Jan 28, 2019 at 11:59 am

          I read a lot of Dickens.

    • Cynic
      Jan 27, 2019 at 5:21 am

      Dr Tim Morgan has written excellent (and politically neutral, like this site) pieces on the British economy and falling real prosperity there, very well worth checking out. It is not at all a pretty picture…..

    • Julian
      Jan 28, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      Wow.

      You are making some wild claims there.

      “The wealth really is in the hands of the 0.00000000000001% etc.”

      If there are about 7.5 billion people in the world you are claiming that the wealth is in the hands of .0000075 of people in the world?!?!?

      How is that even possible?!?

      So you mean literally in a pair of hands somewhere not even connected to an actual person?!?

      A truly strange concept you have.

      (Sorry if I counted the wrong number of 0s on your estimate).

  9. Javert Chip
    Jan 26, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    DQ

    As a frequent American visitor, I find European brick & mortar retail much more pleasant than that in the US. I understand you comments about BREXIT, but even given that uncertainty, any thoughts about why the accelerated switch to on-line retailing?

    I would have guessed Americans would have been way ahead of Europe simply due to the pervasive bland sameness of the US’ vastly over-retailed environment..

    • Jan 26, 2019 at 9:56 pm

      Javert Chip,

      I too have wondered about this. So I’ll add a complication to the question which answers part of the question, but not all of it.

      Auto sales and fuel sales are included in total retail, and they’re currently not threatened by online retail. US consumers buy a lot more cars than Brits, and those cars consume more fuel (bigger vehicles), and people drive more miles, and so autos and fuel combined account for 31% of total retail sales in the US!

      This percentage is a lot smaller in the UK. For example, on a per capita basis, 2018:

      UK: 1 new vehicle sold per 28 people
      US: 1 new vehicle sold per 19 people

      Now figure into the equation that Americans like driving larger vehicles that consumer more gas, and that Americans drive more miles per capita than Brits.

      So if you remove auto sales and fuel sales from the mix for both countries, online sales ex-autos and ex-fuel as a percent of total sales will likely be a lot closer in both countries — with the US percentage probably still not quite as high as in the UK.

      For my quarterly retail articles, I have concocted a division. One part I call “online resistant” retailers (auto dealers, gas stations, grocery stores” which account for about 50% of total retail; and “under-attack retailers” — which is everyone else — also about 50% of the total. And online is already over 22% of the under-attack retailers.

      https://wolfstreet.com/2018/11/19/mall-retailers-melt-down-as-sales-shift-to-online/

      • char
        Jan 27, 2019 at 6:25 pm

        Gas taxes are much higher in Britain so i wouldn’t say that its share of “retail” sales is lower. If you define online to also include the electricity network than i wouldn’t say fuel is immune. IThe shift to electric would also lead to the closure of many retail outlets.

        Car sales are threatened by online (see Tesla) but it is always claimed that dealers don’t make their money with sales but with maintenance. Also new cars in Europe aren’t usual sold off the lot which meant that a car-sale was always more a financial deal + a later transfer than a real showroom affair. And cars are *bleep*ing expensive so kicking the tires and having maintenance close by is expected.

    • Unamused
      Jan 26, 2019 at 11:53 pm

      I should think it would be obvious. It’s a sheeple thing. Americans are far more conditioned to settle than are Europeans, who on the whole tend to have more sophisticated tastes. Americans, like Asians, tend towards the tawdry and lack discrimination.

      I blame marketing because that’s easy and convenient and a more insightful analysis would just make a lot of eyes glaze over.

      • kitten lopez
        Jan 27, 2019 at 5:04 pm

        ah! this is interesting even relating to the history of tailored/custom and fine clothing and Americans know little of quality, fine fabrics, or good finishings.

    • char
      Jan 27, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      I think this is more a selection and novity effect than that retail in Europe is really more pleasant. Every town center in my country has exactly the same shops but most are for an American new thus a novity while they are for me just boring. And as foreigner you probably only visit the biggest town centers while at home you probably just visit the closest mall.

      Online sales may also be much more competitive in Britain than the US. More people have broadband/mobile internet and if the UK it is like my country than you could order a dishwasher at 23:00 and get it delivered next day. I don’t think that is true all Americans

      • Jan 27, 2019 at 8:45 pm

        char,

        This has been standard practice in the US for years. About 5 years ago, we ordered a new dishwasher online. Arrived and installed two business days later. Free shipping. If I had wanted to have it faster, I would have had to pay for shipping.

        • char
          Jan 27, 2019 at 9:58 pm

          Next day is not two business days later. But that is not the point i want to make. There are plenty of towns with 50.000 people were Amazon can’t really deliver in a day. There are non in the UK

      • Javert Chip
        Jan 28, 2019 at 9:33 pm

        Char

        Amazon may indeed do a better job of quickly delivering in the UK than in the US.

        However, please note:

        o The US land-mass is 40 times larger than the UK (UK is about 1/2 the size of California, which is not the largest state)

        o UK Population density is 660/sq-mile vs US @ 85/sq-mile.

        • char
          Jan 28, 2019 at 10:22 pm

          Exactly, online retail is further along in the UK than in the US (SF and NY etc. excluded) so B&M retail should be closer to the abyss

    • fajensen
      Jan 28, 2019 at 3:55 am

      Driving into Oxford would convince anyone to shop online!

      They have two park-and-rides, roughly one at each end of Oxford, the idea is that one takes the bus from there. Of Course – because this is the UK in a nutshell – there is no way to pay by card, you have to have cash or make the hike across rubble-strewn terrain to get to a motorway service point where there is a cash machine. Once this is done, one can pay maybe 12 GBP for the days parking and the bus fare.

      This is assuming there is space. Because. Builders Junk and Caravans will camp out in the park-and-rides, taking space, no enforcement is obvious. In addition there is always some part of the parking lot which is in some state of construction, closed off by “temporary” fencing and no visible activity.

      So, you think, eff that and drive into Oxford city centre. Good Luck. Like with an arcade game there is like one path with, many diversions and splits in the road, leading to somewhere where one can maybe park.

      All Other Paths will divert one out on the periphery of Oxford again for a second go at it. Ok, we get there. Parking is now about 15 GBP (but since more people, cheaper than the park-and-ride bus).

      That is an hour of work, plus the price of a decent pub meal, JUST to get to the point where one can begin to get into some High Street shops!

      It’s maybe OK when one visits as a tourist, but, living there and doing this several times a month!? NO Way! Only Chinese tourists crowd the streets of Oxford these days.

      • Stan6565
        Jan 28, 2019 at 3:04 pm

        Nailed it just there “Only Chinese tourists crowd the streets of Oxford these days.”

        I have not heard of anyone who has even heard of anyone going to Oxford to do shopping. The MSM wisdom is that all, U.K. based and abroad based, go there to admire the medieval architecture and academic cloisters.

        But, Next, Jigsaw, Debenhams, Selfridges? Surely that is done from the hotel room after a few warm overpriced ales :)

        • EB
          Jan 30, 2019 at 4:07 am

          Very similar situation in Cambridge.

  10. hotairmail
    Jan 27, 2019 at 4:57 am

    That ‘generation ago’ figure for fiscal responsibility going out of the window dovetails with the election of ‘New (shiny) Labour’ under the disastrous leadership of Blair and Brown. The British people have been paying for that mistake ever since.

    Charge sheet:

    1.Brown kicked off the regulatory race to the bottom with New York, directly leading eventually to the global financial crisis, as London became the wild west structured credit capital for misselling sub prime debt to the world. It is no surprise to find the like of AIG’s ‘brains’, Madoff’s accountant and the huge US investment banks centred in London.
    2.Blair lied about WMD, consequently the USA and UK remained mired in Iraq for a decade. Basically they have turned the middle east into a killing zone by their original actions.
    3.Their unbelievable spending spree including much of it off balance sheet with PFI, turned the UK from one of fiscal probity to a huge deficit once the financial crisis hit and a major source of tax (the City) disappeared.
    4. By blocking joining the Euro, Brown effectively made Britian’s positon in Europe untenable with the UK left out of many discussions and decisions being made in the interests of Euro. The logic of Brexit was a result of such decisions.
    5. Blair’s decision to ‘rub the Tories faces in it’ by opening the gates to mass immigration sealed Britain’s fate.
    6. Blair’s plotting to quickly extend the EU to the east could yet end up in a wider war beyond that of the Ukraine.

    I could go on and on.

  11. Jan 27, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    every time I read the comments in the Uk press about the high street Uk consumers echo the same stuff. High parking charges, lack of choice, same tatt in all stores, over-vigilant traffick wardens. The biggest one is “I can get it cheaper online and delivered the next day”

    Also, business rates are absurd basically doubling the store rent. If you own a shop you are working for the state, your employee’s social contributions and your landlord. Anyone going into physical store retail now needs their head looked at.

  12. Rowen
    Jan 27, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    So is there a dairy/cheese crisis in the UK like the one in the US?

  13. Jeremy
    Jan 27, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    “Online sales surged 13.9% in December year-on year, according to the ONS, and accounted for 20% total retail sales in December. That’s up from just 5% ten years ago and double the share online retail in the US.”

    Shopping in the UK is a shitty, stressful and demeaning experience of unhelpful and poorly trained employees, devoid of the ability to take action, and served in crappy retail environs:
    ex. Tesco, Go Outdoors, CoOp.

    Unlike the amazing US retail experience:
    Wholefoods, Trader Joe’s, REI, Dick’s.

    No wonder UK shoppers choose to shop from home.

    • char
      Jan 28, 2019 at 10:39 pm

      Supermarkets haven’t jet suffered from online sales and are not typical city center/mall stores which are hurting. Also Tesco/Coop are in a different (cheaper) market segment that wholefood so service is likely also less.

  14. Jeremy
    Jan 27, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    And this guy has great economic commentary on the UK.
    Great writing:

    http://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2018/12/14/the-everything-pin/

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