Easter timing hits retailers

THE timing of Easter, combined with consumers’ ongoing uncertainty, caused UK retail sales to fall 2.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis last month compared to April 2009, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) will say today in its monthly retail sales monitor.

This year, only two days over Easter fell in April compared to all four days in 2009, when April saw like-for-like sales grow by 4.6 per cent. However, the distortions from Easter are ironed out on the February to April three-month weighted average, which reveals like-for-like retail sales rising 1.6 per cent on a year earlier.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “April’s sales were down on a year ago, but that’s because of the Easter effect. Both food and non-food sales growth slipped back this April because people had already done their Easter spending in the previous month.”

Food sales values fell back last month, largely reflecting the timing of Easter and significantly lower food inflation in April 2010, which made sales growth more difficult. Non-food retail sales also deteriorated but this was also affected by pre-election uncertainty and consumer caution, which favoured essentials and replacements over discretionary items, the BRC said.

Robertson stressed: “There’s no question that customers are more willing to spend than 12 months ago but they are still nervous. People need to know how a new government’s moves to tackle the deficit will affect their incomes and jobs. Even if the measures are tough, knowing what they are could be better than the current uncertainty.”

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, which conducted the survey with the BRC, added: “The general malaise of the consumer is evident and looks likely to remain, for a while at least, given the uncertain political and economic environment.” Consumer caution extended to the typically resilient food market. Research by IGD showed that 54 per cent of shoppers expect to be more careful about their food shopping in the future.