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Peaks and troughs for March’s retail sales figures

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
The ‘Beast from the East’ deterred shoppers in March but the cool start was offset by rising Easter sales due to the timing of the holiday.

In March, UK retail sales increased by 1.4% on a like-for-like basis from a year earlier and on a total basis, sales rose 2.3%, which is above the quarterly and annual averages of 1.8% and 1.9% respectively.

However, the retail sales monitor for March 2018, compiled by the British Retail Consortium and KPMG, found this positivity was “distorted by the timing of Easter”.

Over the three months to March, food sales increased 4.2% on a like-for-like basis and 5.3% on a total basis.

This is the strongest three-month average since 2009 and above the 12-month total average growth of 4.4% – the highest since March 2012.

But non-food retail sales in the UK decreased 1.8% on a like-for-like basis in the three months to March and by 1% on a total basis.

Given the effects of the ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma, the monitor revealed online sales of non-food products grew 7.9% in March, against a growth of 6.6% in March 2017.

This is above the three-month and 12-month averages of 6.6% and 7.8% respectively.

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “March paints a volatile picture for sales, which experienced peaks and troughs to deliver some modest growth on last year.

“The positive distortion from the timing of Easter pushed sales up by over 15% 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.

“There’s no doubt the ‘Beast from the East’ and its successor played a significant role in deterring shoppers from making store visits. But it didn’t dampen consumers’ appetites towards food purchases, which saw the anticipated spike from the Easter festivities.

“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.”

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

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

“The start of 2018 has already seen a list of casualties, and with trading conditions unlikely to change in the short-term, retailers are increasingly having to be clear on their point of differentiation. It appears that unless you’re a grocer, bridging the gap between online and off-line sales offers the best means of success in this climate.”

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