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25 August 2021

UK retailers report lowest level of stock since 1983

Worker shortages, coupled with the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit, have left shelves empty across the industry.

By Michael Goodier

Relative stock levels in Britain’s shops hit a record low across retail and the distribution sector as a whole according to a longstanding survey run by the Confederation of British Industry.

Worker shortages, coupled with the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit, mean that major retailers’ stock levels are at their lowest since 1983 when compared to expected sales.

It marks the fifth consecutive month in which a record low has been reached in distribution sector stock levels. Within retail, the proportion of deliveries from suppliers accounted for by imports also fell sharply, owing to global supply chain disruption caused by the Covid-19 as well as transport worker shortages.

UK firms report lowest level of stock since records began in 1983
Stock levels in relation to expected sales (negative figures imply shortage)

The figures follow a separate ONS survey that showed retail sales in the UK falling unexpectedly in July – with the organisation pointing to transportation delays for some electronic goods.

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The recent supply chain crunch hasn’t been limited to the retail sector. Nando’s recently reported chicken shortages and McDonald’s ran out of milkshakes – both likely due to a shortage of lorry drivers.

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Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said that challenges in global shipping and the shortage of UK lorry drivers were creating additional costs for retailers, and that these would get worse in October when the UK introduces new checks on animal products being imported from the EU.

“[The] government must take action on these issues, increasing the number of HGV driving tests taking place and ensuring new EU-GB documentation checks are as light touch as possible,” she said.