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UK retail sales drop 0.7% in March

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UK retail sales declined by 0.7 per cent last month compared with February as the second coldest March on record hampered results, according to figures released today.

Year-on-year retail sales fell by 0.5 per cent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed, following strong year-on-year growth of 2.5 per cent in February.

Downward contributions came from clothing & footwear which continued to struggle amid unseasonable weather, decreasing by 3.9 per cent year-on-year.

A statement from the ONS explained: “March 2013 was the second coldest on record and this appears to have had a negative effect on sales in the non-food sector.

“Feedback from department stores, clothing stores and household goods stores suggested that sales were dampened by the weather as they prepared their stores for the Spring season.”

These figures tally with disappointing results released today by department store chain Debenhams, which stated that snow in January disrupted sales and that promotions in February were insufficient to recover losses.

Commenting on the retail sales results, Partner at advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper Peter Saville said: “The results are disappointing, but unsurprising.

“The prolonged cold weather has certainly taken its toll on the UK high street and has further discouraged consumer spending.

“We are now well into 2013 and many retailers, who have invested heavily in their online offerings and store experience, will be hoping their efforts will soon pay off.

“A rise in consumer confidence would be welcomed by retailers keen to turn around this stagnant trend.”

However, sales over the first quarter of this year rose 0.4 per cent compared with the final quarter of 2012 while retail sales values between March 2012 and 2013 increased 0.1 per cent.

Food retailers fared well over the month thanks to the popularity of Easter products, providing the highest upward contributions to the overall figure while online sales also performed strongly, up 10.4 per cent as consumers favoured shopping from the comfort of their homes.

Acknowledging that overall figures “reflect a disappointing Easter performance, Ian Geddes, UK Head of Retail at Deloitte, said that the results offer hope for the high street.

“Food retailers fared better as they capitalised on Mother’s Day and Easter celebrations.

“Those retailers with a strong online presence also reaped the rewards. Footfall fell as consumers opted to avoid the chill and shop from the comfort of their own home.

“Certainly, the weather highlighted the importance for retailers to have a nimble and responsive supply chain structure in place.

“The ability to adapt product offerings according to customer demand is crucial as unpredictable weather patterns become increasingly prevalent.

“Nevertheless, the outlook is beginning to look a little brighter for the retail industry.

“Spring has finally arrived, inflation remains stable and credit availability continues to improve, suggesting pressure on purse strings is starting to ease.”

Published on Thursday 18 April by Editorial Assistant

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