Retail sales rebounded from an underlying drop in February to rise year-on-year in March, according to new research, however the performance was helped by very weak comparatives from last year.
New figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) & audit, tax & advisory firm KPMG, like-for-like trading jumped 1.3 per cent last month compared to a 3.5 per cent decline recorded for March 2011.
Unseasonably warm weather boosted clothing, footwear & outdoor leisure sales over the period, while food sales growth remained unchanged from February, and trading in indoor homewares remained down on a year ago.
Stephen Robertson, Director General of the BRC, commented: “The unusually warm weather in March brought some welcome sunshine into the lives of non-food retailers. The early signs of summer got people buying clothes and shoes for the new season. Gardening items and outdoor leisure also saw a lift.
“It’s worth remembering the sales comparison is against the weakest month of last year, largely caused by the movement of Easter in the calendar, and we’ll have to see whether this is additional spending or just shopping which has happened earlier than usual.”
Online sales of non-food items increased 13.9 per cent, an improvement on the previous month when growth in this area worryingly dipped below double-digits, but this figures is also distorted by the changing date of Easter.
Discounting still remains prevalent across retail, particularly in homewares, as consumers remain cautious over spending, and Robertson argues that “it will take more than a week of sunshine to transform retailers’ fortunes”.
Helen Dickinson, Head of Retail at KPMG, suggests that female shoppers are being more careful with their money then males, with women’s fashion performing less well then menswear & childrenswear during March and textiles & home accessories also selling poorly.
Inflationary pressures also had a large impact on the overall sales figures recorded last month.
“Increases in food prices rather than volumes was one of the factors behind the uplift in this month’s figures,” Dickinson added.
“Rising petrol prices continued to drive up transport and manufacturing costs, causing food prices to increase each month since the start of the year.
“Retailers will be hoping Easter provides a much needed boost but many are not holding their breath and continue to focus on controlling margins and costs.”