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Sharp fall in high street sales

High street sales suffered their sharpest monthly fall in more than three years in March as less discounting kept consumers away from stores.

The BDO High Street Sales Tracker said like-for-like sales fell by 4% compared to a year ago, the greatest monthly drop since September 2011, due to lower footfall levels and a slide in discounting from a year ago.

The result reflects a tough comparison against 2014, which saw the best March performance for four years as much of the country enjoyed unseasonably warm temperatures following a flood-hit February.

The survey also points out that this year Easter falls two weeks earlier, and some consumers may be delaying purchases until this week's long Bank Holiday weekend when they will have more time to shop.

Official figures last week showed that retail sales rose by a sharper than expected 0.7% in February, suggesting that consumers were ''spending the windfall'' from lower food and oil prices.

But the BDO report said evidence from the Office for National Statistics data had "largely failed to materialise amongst many high street retailers", with the exception of big-ticket lifestyle and furniture retailers.

The fashion sector was the poorest performer last month, with like-for-like sales falling 5.5% due to low footfall levels on high streets and in retail parks. Fashion retailers were also affected by a fall in widespread discounting, which resulted in a drop in sales.

The best-performing sector was homewares, which notched up like-for-like sales of 6.4%, with the report saying this area gained the most from rising consumer confidence resulting from lower fuel and food prices.

It added that big-ticket furniture and department stores gained most of all.

The survey added that spending with DIY retailers remains muted.

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