Warm weather aided UK retail sales in March

Kasmira Jefford
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RETAIL sales continued to recover in March, after the warm weather encouraged consumers to hit the high street for seasonal merchandise, according to industry figures published today.

The latest monthly survey from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed that total retail sales rose 3.6 per cent in March from the same month last year, and also rose 1.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

Over three months, non-food sales rose by 1.5 per cent on a year ago as the early signs of summer prompted households to buy gardening tools, clothes and shoes for the new season.

But BRC director general Stephen Robertson pointed out that sales compare against the weakest month of last year, when sales were dented by Easter falling later.

“We’ll have to see whether this is additional spending or just shopping which has happened earlier than usual,” he said.

Total food sales surged by 4.3 per cent over three months, and 1.2 per cent on a like-for-like basis, but Robertson said this was “largely underpinned by food inflation rather than by customers buying more”.

Consumers’ incomes continued to be squeezed as they struggle to balance household budgets against expensive fuel and utilities.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG said: “Retailers will be hoping Easter provides a much needed boost but many are not holding their breath and continue to focus on controlling margins and costs.”

This caution was underlined by retail analysis firm Springboard, which said today that the rain over Easter bank holiday drove people away from the high street, with a 12.5 per cent decline across the weekend compared to last year.

“The fact that Easter was earlier this year has had an impact on footfall and clearly the ongoing squeeze on household finances is taking its toll,” said Diane Wehrle, research director.

Springboard’s survey of 85 towns and cities showed that footfall was down by 2.1 per cent last month compared with March 2011.

This is a 10.4 per cent improvement on last month.