March retail sales “even worse than anticipated” thanks to weather

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Retail sales in March dropped by double analysts’ expectations as the high street continued to feel the effects from the cold weather.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) retail sales fell 1.2 per cent last month, well above forecasts of 0.6 per cent.

Though a sharp decline in fuel sales had a significant impact on these figures, retail sales still dropped 0.5 per cent excluding petrol.

This has dragged down the three-month average even further, with both January and February also seeing drops. The first quarter of the year was saw retail sales drop 0.4 per cent excluding fuel compared to the last three months of 2017.

“Retail sales fell in the first quarter due to a large decline in March with petrol sales seeing a significant slump as a result of the poor weather keeping many shoppers indoors,” ONS senior statistician said Rhian Murphy said.

“However, the snow actually helped boost online spending with department stores in particular seeing growth in their web sales.

“Various shops also reported increased spending on gifts in the run-up to Easter and Mother’s Day, which also helped boost online sales.”

Department stores were the only other sector see positive growth of 0.8 per cent in March, with Mother’s Day and Easter boosting sales.

Hargreaves Lansdown’s senior economist Ben Brettle added: “The backdrop for UK retailers so far this year has been one of tough trading conditions, with the likes of New Look, Moss Bros and Carpetright all revealing they’re feeling the strain. Debenhams shares hit a nine-year low this morning following news of an 85% drop in pre-tax profits.

“The weather meant a disappointing retail sales reading for March was all but guaranteed, but the figures were even worse than anticipated…

“But the UK consumer has been surprisingly resilient over the past few years, even in the face of economic uncertainty, and there looks to be some light at the end of the tunnel for those suffering a squeeze in household budgets.”

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