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No gold for retail in the UK

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said that the Olympics caused UK retail sales to drop in August.

UK retail sales values were down by 0.4% on a like-for-like basis from August 2011, when they were down 0.6% on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were up 1.6%, against a 1.5% rise in August 2011.

Excluding the Easter anomaly, these were the lowest since November 2011, driven by particularly weak non-food sales as the feelgood factor of the Olympics seemingly failed to inspire spending.

There was a minor boost to food sales in the form of party food and drink, but the net effect of the Games was minimal as the lower footfall in London was offset by a better performance in the rest of the country.

The most noticeable impact from the Olympics was felt online which saw growth of just 4.8% in August - the lowest since the Monitor started collecting data on this in October 2008.

"There's no evidence here of any Olympic boost to retail sales overall. Sadly, apart from April - distorted by Easter timings - August saw the worst sales growth this year," Stephen Robertson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said.

"Hot weather and the Olympics did help sales of party food and drink but that was more than offset by a really weak performance for non-food goods.

"It's clear people were absorbed by the magnificent Olympics and had little interest in shopping, especially for major items. Usually-reliable online sales suffered, putting in the worst sales growth since we started the measure four years ago. Some retailers told us online activity was particularly thin in the evenings. If people weren't watching television they were more likely to be following the sport on PCs and mobile devices than shopping.

As summer gives way to the all-important Christmas run-up, retailers will be hoping sales that didn't happen in August have been postponed and not lost entirely."

Helen Dickinson, Head of Retail, KPMG, said: "Retailers' hopes that the Olympics would inspire a pickup in spending were dashed as shoppers stayed away from the high street and enjoyed the sporting spectacle from their armchairs. While, without doubt, the Olympics brought a much needed boost to consumer confidence, the country was 'otherwise engaged' in August and the sales figures show a mixed picture. Those areas of spending which are most discretionary suffered, with women's clothing, furniture, flooring and home related items hit the hardest.

"However, it could have been much worse. August is traditionally a weak month for sales and it's really the next three months that will have a critical impact on retailers' profitability. The challenge remains to accurately forecast outcomes in such a volatile trading environment."

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