Olympics keep Britons away from shops in August: BRC

LONDON Tue Sep 4, 2012 2:34am EDT

Shoppers hold umbrellas as they walk under London Olympic 2012 banners in Oxford Street in central London July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Shoppers hold umbrellas as they walk under London Olympic 2012 banners in Oxford Street in central London July 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - The London Olympics failed to boost British retail sales as hoped last month, when households preferred to watch the games rather than go shopping, giving stores one of their worst months of 2012, the British Retail Consortium said on Tuesday.

The BRC's findings tally with other surveys and retailers' reports, showing that consumers were in no mood for a spending spree during the Olympics.

Like-for-like retail sales -- or sales at stores open for at least a year -- fell by 0.4 percent in value terms compared with August 2011, following a 0.1 percent increase in July, the BRC said.

The value of total retail sales, a measure favored by economists and closer to that found in official statistics, was 1.6 percent up on the year, also a slowdown after a 2.0 percent climb in July.

"Sadly, apart from April -- distorted by Easter timings -- August saw the worst sales growth this year," said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.

Warm 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, the BRC said.

"It's clear people were absorbed by the magnificent Olympics and had little interest in shopping, especially for major items," Robertson said. "Usually reliable online sales suffered, putting in the worst sales growth since we started the measure four years ago," he added.

Some retailers reported online activity was particularly thin in the evenings, as people watched broadcasts of major Olympic events rather than shop online, the BRC said.

The weak retail sales dent expectations that a rebound of growth over the summer will finally lift the country out of recession after three consecutive quarters of falling output.

Most British retailers have been struggling because consumers have been reluctant to spend as rising prices, tax hikes and high unemployment hurt their spending power.

A report from Local Data Company (LDC) said on Tuesday nearly one in seven British shops remained vacant at the end of June as retailers struggled.

The government -- under pressure to boost the economy as its austerity drive becomes increasingly unpopular -- and the Bank of England have been banking on an increase in consumer spending to support growth.

However, British consumer morale stayed in the doldrums as no amount of Olympic cheer seemed able to outweigh mounting worries about the economy, a survey by GfK NOP showed last week.

(Reporting by Sven Egenter; Editing by Hugh Lawson)