Belfast Telegraph

The mood is positive in retail

Donald C McFetridge

AT last, there appears to be some good news in the retail sector. According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, in February UK retail sales volumes rose by 3.7% year-on-year and by 1.7% from January. In addition, the overall value of sales in February grew 3.5% year-on-year and by 1.3% on January 2014.

This spells good news for many hard-pressed retailers and is a clear sign that recovery is on the way.

It is, however, important to point out that the amount spent online in February increased by 12.4% compared to the same month last year and – compared to January 2014 – the amount spent online rose by 2.5%; a clear indication that retailers with an online presence are set for a bright future.

Closer analysis of these statistics shows that recent improvements in the housing market are contributing to strong growth in the sales of homeware products, while wet weather in February clearly took its toll on the High Street.

As retailers look forward to the Easter trading period, analysts expect the retail sector to continue to improve throughout the remainder of the year, albeit at a modest pace.

At the same time, there is more good news for consumers. According to figures released by GfK in its latest Consumer Confidence Barometer, UK consumer confidence in March climbed to its highest level since August 2007.

GfK's headline index rose by two points to -5 after all five measures used to calculate the index score saw increases last month. It should be remembered while these statistics and figures are very encouraging, not everyone is experiencing improvements.

Importantly, consumers are now – on balance – much more positive than negative about their personal financial prospects over the next year and it is unlikely that anything announced in last month's Budget will reverse this. Another encouraging sign that things are starting to improve for both retailers and consumers.

Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster Business School, University of Ulster

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