Belfast Telegraph

Price reductions and food shops bring retail sales to 10-year high

By Clare Weir

Food fans and heavy discounting have driven a 10-year high in retail sales, according to a Northern Ireland expert.

Donald McFetridge of the University of Ulster was speaking after new Office for National Statistics figures revealed that retail sales volumes rose at their fastest year-on-year rate for a decade in April amid a squeeze on prices.

However, he warned that local shopkeepers may not reap the benefits.

Volumes were up by 6.9% compared to April last year, while average store prices fell 0.6%.

Retail sales last month were up by 1.3% compared to March, well ahead of forecasts.

Food stores experienced the fastest year-on-year rise in volume sales since January 2002, at 6.3%, as customers took advantage of the supermarket price war, driving average weekly sales to £3bn.

Annual price inflation at grocers halved to 0.9% from 1.8% in March.

Non-food sales were up 6.5% on a year earlier while department stores climbed by 9.7%. Online sales spending was up 13.3%.

"The statistics are indeed mightily impressive considering that there has only been a gradual rise in wages and consumers are still faced with inflated bills for their households in general," said Mr McFetridge.

"The retail marketplace is a very competitive one at the minute and retailers are finding themselves being squeezed for very tight margins in order to remain attractive to consumers.

"What's driving these spending increases is largely the heavy discounting and price-cutting exercises by the supermarkets.

"The big four – Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons – are battling it out for a place in consumers' hearts and minds.

"The more prudent retailers must remember that they cater to consumers who have changed irrevocably over the past five years.

"The consumer of 2014 has learned to shop around – both online and on the high street and out-of-town – for the best value and price and will continue to do so even when the economic recovery is much better.

"These are national statistics, there are retailers in Northern Ireland who are starting to see clear signs or evidence of a turnaround but there are still many others, particularly independents, who are struggling to keep the doors of their shops open due to high running costs.

"It's not good news for everyone right across the board. There are always winners, but there are always losers too."

Belfast Telegraph

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