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Retailers suffer falling sales after storm-hit Easter

Published 21/04/2016

The ONS said average store prices fell by 3% in March, the 21st consecutive month of year-on-year decreases
The ONS said average store prices fell by 3% in March, the 21st consecutive month of year-on-year decreases

An early Easter and the bad weather that came with it left retailers suffering a second successive month of falling sales, official figures suggest.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the quantities bought in the retail industry in March decreased by 1.3% on February, on the back of a 0.4% decrease the previous month.

Year-on-year sales registered a 2.7% increase, down from 3.8% the previous month.

The ONS said average store prices, including petrol stations, fell by 3% in March, the 21st consecutive month of year-on-year decreases.

The amount spent in the retail industry decreased by 0.1% compared with March last year, and by 1.3% compared with February this year.

The value of online sales increased by 8.9% on a year ago but decreased by 0.5% compared with February.

Keith Richardson, managing director of the retail sector at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: "Not even the combination of an early Easter and Mother's Day could shelter retailers from Storm Katie and the headwinds of slowing consumer spending, resulting in a second successive month of falling sales.

"The four-day Easter weekend normally brings with it bumper sales of food, spring fashion and plenty of DIY and gardening goods as families use the extra days off to spruce up their homes.

"Not only did Easter come too early for people looking to refresh their spring wardrobes, but it also coincided with bad weather sweeping across much of the UK, dampening any enthusiasm for gardening equipment."

Dennis de Jong, managing director at UFX.com, said: "Commentators had predicted strong retail sales figures, so today's data may be hard to swallow for those who'd had a positive outlook.

"Any number of factors could be to blame, from bad weather to poor employment figures, along with the reality that wage growth remains stagnant. Consumers may also be nervous about an uncertain Brexit outcome, ensuring they keep a tight hold on their wallets.

"Mark Carney and his Bank of England colleagues will be hopeful that the pending arrival of summer will prompt the masses to hit the high street, and drive those numbers back up."

Ian Gilmartin, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays, said: "Sales were sluggish in March, with the industry struggling to replicate the success achieved at the start of the year. However, there are still some encouraging signs as online sales again impressed, with retailers appealing to tech-savvy customers by taking advantage of internet and mobile sales opportunities.

"Now that the sun has started to shine occasionally, retailers will be hoping their summer lines can capture shoppers' attention and lure them back to the high street, and that increased footfall coupled with further online growth will help deliver a return to form this month."

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