Ray of light for retailers as footwear and clothes sales jump
Retailers enjoyed a welcome sales boost last month after March's surprise heatwave caused a surge in demand for footwear and clothing.
Like-for-like sales rose a healthy 1.3% as the balmy weather prompted people to upgrade their wardrobes, with footwear seeing its best sales growth for nearly five years, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Clothing firms saw their best performance since the frenzy of pre-Christmas special offers, while demand for gardening goods and barbecue food helped overall like-for-like sales hit positive territory for the first time in 2012.
But the BRC warned the buoyant figures compared to an "exceptionally weak" March the previous year and said the sunshine may have brought sales forward rather than creating a genuine increase.
BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said life remained difficult for retailers, who are having to put on more special offers to drum up trade as shoppers battle rising petrol and utility bills.
He added: "The unusually warm weather in March brought some welcome sunshine into the lives of non-food retailers.
"The warmth of March was a help but it will take more than a week of sunshine to transform retailers' fortunes."
Helen Dickinson, head of retail at survey partner KPMG, said that while clothes and footwear were boosted by the heatwave, womenswear did not perform as well as ranges for men and children.
She believes this is because women "tightened their purse strings most severely" to help them control household budgets.
The warm weather helped online retailers, who saw sales grow 13.9%, their best performance since December, although this was again compared to a weak showing the previous year.
And health and beauty sales were up, as sales of suncream and fragrances were boosted by the hot weather and Mothers' Day.
But the market for electrical items remained difficult, as shoppers shied away from 'big ticket items' .
The rise in like-for-like sales compared to the 'weak' March of 2011