Figures released today by British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard suggested that better weather last month had released some suppressed demand after the previous month had been unseasonably chilly. March 2013 was the joint coldest ever recorded by the Met Office.
Despite more spending in town centres, the number of empty shops also hit a record high of 11.9 per cent, following poor sales in the first quarter.
Diane Wehrle from Springboard said declining sales in shopping centres were driving empty storefronts.
“Many of the high-profile rental failures reflected in the increased retail rate have been located in malls, creating holes in their retail frontages which have adversely affected their attractiveness to shoppers,” she said.
The figures also showed increasing popularity for shopping after traditional opening hours, with a 4.9 per cent rise in sales after 6pm.
London had both the lowest proportion of vacant shops, at 7.4 per cent, and the highest annual increase in footfall, up 4.2 per cent since last year.
Last week, Barclaycard also registered increases in consumer spending, but noted that online sales were increasingly dominating growth. Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC said that there were ways in which further deterioration of physical retail could be avoided. “Comparatively small steps to tackle deep-rooted issues such as parking, accessibility and rising business costs could make a huge difference to the health of town centres”.