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    Dismal weather dampens retail sales

    (Photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images)

    Cold wet weather and caution about spending amid high interest rates and energy bills have delivered a dismal start to spring for retailers, shows the latest industry figures.

    According to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) trade body and advisory firm KPMG released today (7), sales were virtually flat across March and April against the same period a year ago, despite prices continuing to rise with inflation, suggesting a drop in the volume of items sold in the key Easter period.

    Food sales increased 4.4 per cent year on year over the three months to April, against a growth of 9.8 per cent in April 2023. This is below the 12-month average growth of 6.7 per cent.

    In the four weeks to the end of April, overall retail sales were down 4 per cent, but this number was partly affected by Easter falling early this year at the end of March. Non-food sales were the hardest hit, down almost 3 per cent with in-store and online orders down.

    Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said, “Dismal weather and disappointing sales led to a depressing start to Spring for retailers, even accounting for the change in timing of Easter. People delayed typical Spring purchases despite retailers’ attempts to entice customers with heavy discounts. A dull, wet April dampened sales growth for clothing and footwear, especially outdoor sportswear, as well as DIY and garden furniture. Promotions in computing did boost sales as many sought to upgrade their tech a few years post the pandemic surge in tech sales. Many retailers are hoping for brighter sales over the summer months as social events ramp up, and consumer confidence could improve with a potential cut in interest rates.

    “A strong retail industry is vital for a strong economy, and it is vital the next Government recognises this if it wants to boost investment in our towns and cities. Retail is nearly 10 per cent of employment in every region and plays a unique role in building communities and generating local economic growth. The Government must champion pro-growth policies to help unlock important investment in many left-behind regions.”

    Reacting to food and drink sector performance, Sarah Bradbury, CEO at IGD, said, “With Easter falling in March this year, the UK grocery market was always going to face a tough set of annual comparisons in April. Sales and volumes have predictably both turned negative compared to the same period last year. But there is hope – with inflation continuing to exit the market, increased promotional activity among retailers, and two upcoming bank holidays in which sales and volumes will surely improve.

    “As expected, confidence in the year ahead continues to grow steadily. Shopper confidence at a total level increased slightly in April as inflation continued to ease off slowly. However, as National Price Hike Day and the 2p cut to national insurance have both come into effect, we continue to anticipate a divergent experience in recovery for shoppers.”

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