Beast from the East makes for a volatile retail period
The Beast from the East kept shoppers away from stores in March as people huddled in the warmth of their homes amid the big freeze, figures show.
A report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG, covering the final days of February to the end of March, said the period was volatile as the run-up to Easter helped to offset the impact of the "seemingly endless" cold weather on sales.
It said UK retail sales increased by 1.4% on a like-for-like basis compared with March 2017, when they had decreased 1% from the preceding year.
On a total basis, sales rose 2.3% annually in March, against a decline of 0.2% in March 2017.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "March paints a volatile picture for sales, which experienced peaks and troughs to deliver some modest growth on last year.
"The positive distortion from the timing of Easter pushed sales up by over 15% during the holiday week compared with the rest of the month, only just making up for a sub-zero performance at the start of the month.
"There's no doubt that the Beast from the East and its successor played a significant role in deterring shoppers from making store visits.
"But it didn't dampen consumers' appetites towards food purchases, which saw the anticipated spike from the Easter festivities."
Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG, said: "March was difficult for large parts of the UK retail industry. Seemingly endless cold weather dissuaded would-be shoppers from the high street and a number of retailers delivered bad news."
The report was released as figures from Barclaycard showed that consumer spending growth slowed as temperatures fell in March, increasing by 2% year on year - the lowest level since April 2016.
It said spending at garden centres plunged by 26.4% annually - the biggest fall since Barclaycard's records on this started in September 2014.
Paul Lockstone, managing director at Barclaycard, said: "The Beast from the East took its toll on the high street in March, keeping shoppers at home and leading to a slowdown in consumer spending."
Barclaycard said in-store spending shrank by 1.9% annually.