LONDON — For a brief moment, the store shelves of the nation’s biggest department stores were filled with signs welcoming new arrivals and thanking them for choosing to shop in their stores.
For most of the year, though, most of those signs were empty.
Many were replaced by billboards, and the signs were mostly empty until last Friday, when the company behind them — Costco Wholesale Corp. — made its first public appearance at a convention in London, and announced a $1.2 billion plan to expand into the United Kingdom.
Costco is an increasingly important player in Britain’s booming grocery and convenience stores, a market worth $15.3 billion a year and growing fast.
But last year it was forced to slash thousands of jobs as part of the European Union’s sweeping economic overhaul.
The announcement Tuesday that Costco will open its first UK outlet in the country came as the U.K. government began to unravel its plans to make its economy more open and modern, with plans to open more than a million jobs over the next two years.
In the meantime, many Brits are finding themselves in an ever-widening economic hole.
The decision by Costco to open a new store in London comes as the economy is still reeling from a devastating wave of job losses, and as many British households are still struggling to pay their bills, according to the UBS global grocery forecast.
In its annual survey of grocery shoppers, the British grocery giant said sales for supermarkets in the U, U.S., France, Germany and Italy were down 2.6 percent, 2.3 percent and 1.5 percent respectively last year.
That was largely due to the impact of the economic downturn and a sharp rise in inflation.
In the U., sales for supermarket brands fell 1.3 percentage points, while for convenience stores fell 1 percentage point.
That’s because of a surge in food and beverage sales in the two countries, according the survey, which was done by global market research firm Deloitte.
The U.N. Economic Commission for Europe has predicted that the British economy will grow 1.9 percent in 2017 and 4.5 per cent in 2018.
In a statement, Costco said it is committed to supporting the businesses that it serves and providing an inclusive shopping experience to its customers.
The company will be investing over $1 billion to further expand its store in the UK, the company said in a statement.
For years, the U-shape of Costco’s store has been a symbol of its commitment to Britain’s growing grocery and specialty retail market, but this year the company announced it will move from a “small” store to a larger outlet in a bid to meet growing demand in the city.
The expansion is part of a broader strategy by Costco that will increase its presence in London’s central business district, which is expected to expand to 1 million square feet by 2021.
The plans are being spearheaded by Costco’s new chief executive officer, Andrew Cunningham, who was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron.