‘Underwhelming’ March retail sales as consumers feel the pinch

UK retailers suffered their third consecutive month of falling sales in March, according to new data out today.

Sales decreased by 1% on a like-for-like basis from March 2016, when they had decreased 0.7% from the preceding year, the British Retail Consortium said.

Over the three months to March, non-food retail sales declined 1.1% on a like-for-like basis and 0.8% on a total basis, the slowest three-month total average growth since May 2011.

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In the same period, online sales of non-food products grew 7.4% while in-store sales declined 3% on a total basis and 3.4% on a like-for-like basis.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said the latest monthly performance was “underwhelming” but pointed to the effect of the timing of Easter in April this year, making comparisons difficult.

“Mother’s Day gift purchases provided some compensation, boosting sales of beauty and stationary items in particular. Looking at the bigger picture though, the slowdown in non-food growth persists and it now stands at its lowest three-month average for nearly six years,” she added.

“The pressure on prices continues to build, albeit slowly, and will inevitably put a tighter squeeze on disposable income and so to ensure consumers continue to enjoy great quality, choice and value on goods, securing tariff free-trade must be the priority as the Brexit negotiations begin in earnest.”

Paul Martin, UK head of Retail at KPMG said: “Easter being later in the year is likely to have contributed to the bleaker picture, alongside the other obstacles facing the sector – especially increased input costs.

“Retailers will be hoping Easter boosts retail sales in April, whether its shoppers making the most of the holiday or those choosing to spruce up their homes. The new tax year marks further pressure on margins in the form of the apprenticeship levy and business rate changes, therefore tighter cost management and a focus on efficiency is more important than ever.”

Despite the disappointing retail results, there’s still hope for an uplift over the Easter weekend. Retail intelligence expert Springboard expects retail footfall to rise by 5.4% over the weekend, compared to same trading dates last year, as shoppers make the most of the mild spring weather and March’s payday.

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