March retail sales increase but snow kept shoppers off the high street

March retail sales

UK retail enjoyed an uptick in sales in March but the Beast from the East deterred shoppers from visiting the high street, new figures show.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG’s monthly Retail Sales Monitor, overall retail sales increased by 1.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis last month, compared to a one per cent decrease in March 2017.

The figures also show that total sales rose by 2.3 per cent, against a decline of 0.2 per cent in March 2017.

This is above the three-month and 12-month averages of 1.8 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively, but is positively distorted by the timing of Easter.

“March paints a volatile picture for sales, which experienced peaks and troughs to deliver some modest growth on last year,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.

“The positive distortion from the timing of Easter pushed sales up by over 15 per cent during the holiday week compared with the rest of the month, only just making up for a sub-zero performance at the start of the month.”

Over the three months to March, food sales climbed by 4.2 per cent on a like-for-like basis and by 5.3 per cent on a total basis.

Meanwhile, non-food retail sales in the UK decreased 1.8 per cent on a like-for-like basis and by one per cent on a total basis.

During the same three-month period, in-store sales of non-food items went down by three per cent on a total basis and four per cent on a like-for-like basis.

Dickinson said the month’s snow and the Beast from the East storm played a pivotal role in deterring shoppers from making store visits but did not impact food purchases so much, which saw an anticipated spike over Easter.

“This was in stark contrast to non-food sales which, despite some promotional driven activity, bore the brunt of consumers’ disinterest in typical springtime purchases, as well as the ongoing spending squeeze on non-essentials,” she said.

Meanwhile, online sales of non-food items grew by 7.9 per cent in March, against a growth of 6.6 per cent in the same month last year, while online penetration rate increased from 20.6 per cent in March 2017 to 22 per cent this year.

“Retailers with an online presence were far more fortunate, with a marked lift in all categories,” KPMG head of retail Paul Martin said.

“The cold weather clearly persuaded shoppers to peruse from the comfort of their own homes, with beauty and clothing grabbing the most attention.”

Dickinson added: “There is hope that, with the gap between inflation and wage growth finally narrowing, consumers’ purse strings will slacken to some extent. But the grip on spending power will persist over the course of the year.”

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