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Rain-hit retail sales dip as shoppers ‘keep a tight hold’ on cash

Rain-hit retail sales dip as shoppers ‘keep a tight hold’ on cash
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

Retail sales dropped by 2.3% during a rainy April, continuing the decline from the previous month, statistics reveal.

Another sodden month weather-wise dampened the volumes of sales across clothing and sports equipment retailers, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

With less footfall on the high street due to the rain, furniture and toy stores took a hit in sales too.

However, across a three-month period, sales volumes increased by 0.7% on the previous period, but this is due to a much quieter-than-expected end to 2023 for retailers.

Compared to the year before, sales volumes slumped by 0.8% for the three months to April 2024.

Further, non-food sales, which accounts for department, clothing, household and other non-food stores, saw the number of sales fall by 4.1% in the month. This is the joint-largest fall since January 2021.

Sophie Lund-Yates, lead equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, which won Best Lifetime Investment ISA at the YourMoney.com Awards 2024, believes “the gloomy weather didn’t spark enthusiasm for house and garden touch-ups, or exercise”.

Meanwhile, poor weather also impacted fuel sales, as people decided to stay at home instead of venturing away. Sales for petrol and diesel declined by the largest monthly amount since October 2021.

The ONS noted that retailers attributed this to “the cost of living [crisis] and the impact of rising fuel prices”. By the end of April, the average price of unleaded petrol rose by 3p to 150p per litre (ppl), while the cost of diesel surged to 157.8ppl.

Early Easter didn’t help disappointing retail sales

Danni Hewson, head of financial analysis at AJ Bell, said: “People stuck close to home. There was little need to fill up the car if you weren’t taking any unnecessary journeys, and sales at the pump suffered their biggest monthly fall since October 2021.

“It didn’t help that Easter came early and all those tasty chocolate eggs and family feasts were totted up in the previous month’s numbers, but even then, March’s flatlining sales were revised down.”

Hewson added: “Consumers are still looking for ways to keep a tight hold on their stretched finances. If they don’t need to spend, they probably won’t, even if they’ve found a few more pennies in their pay packets thanks to the increase in the National Living Wage and a cut in National Insurance contributions [NICs].”

The future might yet be brighter for retail sales in the UK, with huge sporting events including the UEFA European Championships and Olympics getting people out and about again.

“With a summer of sport headed our way, the retail sector will be hoping for long, dry days filled with BBQs, weddings and people moving house – all reasons to splurge that get the tills ringing”, Hewson said.