Turning the corner: The 2014 survey of UK retail chairmen

Even though the economic recovery in the United Kingdom has been uneven,  the chairmen of the UK’s leading retailers have newfound optimism. Over the last 12 months, the proportion of chairmen declaring themselves optimistic about the economic outlook has risen from 15 percent to 73 percent.

Turning the corner: The 2014 survey of UK retail chairmen, the fourth annual survey of chairmen of Britain’s leading retail companies, captures a clear improvement in sentiment from 12 and 24 months earlier:

  • In the 2012 survey, no one was optimistic about the economic outlook, and in 2013, that number had risen only to 15 percent. But the 2014 survey finds 73 percent optimistic, 24 percent “neutral,” and only 3 percent pessimistic.
  • 67 percent of the chairmen said the UK had returned to economic growth.
  • 70 percent believe consumers will be more optimistic this year, a jump from just 24 percent in 2013.
  • 90 percent of chairmen predicted moderate or significant growth for their own companies in 2014.

Where would this growth come from? Primarily from rising international sales, increased mobile and online trading, and enhancement of the multi-channel offer. The chairmen do, however, worry about the future of retailing in town centres if traders, landlords and local authorities do not work together to provide shoppers with a positive overall experience. Many are specifically concerned about the cost of business rates and would like to see reform in this area.

Overall, however, retail chairmen are much more inclined now to credit the coalition government with good performance than they were last year. Two-thirds say the government is doing at least reasonably well, compared with just one-third in 2013. According to the chairmen, the priority for government is “to keep a steady hand on the tiller.” Chairmen are also looking to work with politicians on issues of infrastructure, reducing bureaucracy and the cost of doing business, promoting exports, attracting inbound investment, and dealing with the deficit and its related long-term structural issues.