Retail sales flat-lined in March, according to the latest sales monitor from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), in an early sign that a wobble in the consumer-led recovery could be on the cards.
Total retail sales were unchanged on March 2015, compared to a 4.7 per cent annual increase registered in this month last year. Sales of clothing and footwear suffered the steepest declines since September 2014, but were offset by increased purchases of big ticket items like furniture.
“Despite the clock bringing extra hours of daylight, there was no ‘spring forward’ for retail sales during March with growth broadly flat overall,” said David McCorquidale, head of retail at KPMG.
Non-food sales in the first quarter were up by three per cent on last year, while food sales were down 0.7 per cent. Online shopping continued to grow strongly - up by 9.5 per cent over the year, with one in every £5 of food sales now taking place over the internet.
The BRC cautioned against reading too much into the slowdown, which it said was “distorted by the earlier timing of Easter this year”. However, economist Howard Archer at IHS Global said that the earlier Easter should have actually buoyed sales.
With inflation running at 0.3 per cent and wage growth hovering around two per cent, the fact that sales volumes did not budge, suggests that “more disposable income is being spent on leisure and entertainment” according to Helen Dickinson, chief executive at the BRC.