UK retail sales improve in March

Warm weather encouraged spending on clothing, footwear and outdoor leisure

Shoppers in Manchester carrying shopping bags. Credit: Getty Images

UK retail sales rebounded in March, growing 1.3 per cent, according to the monthly British Retail Consortium-KPMG retail sales monitor.

The unusually warm weather helped clothing, footwear and outdoor leisure sales; indoor home wares remained down on a year ago, with larger purchases in particular hit by consumer caution.

Online sales (including mail order and phone sales) were up 13.9 per cent on 2011.

The food sector remained unchanged from February, while non-food items showed stronger growth.

Stephen Robertson, director general of BRC, said: “The early signs of summer got people buying clothes and shoes for the new season. Gardening items and outdoor leisure also saw a lift.

“It’s worth remembering the sales comparison is against the weakest month of last year, largely caused by the movement of Easter in the calendar, and we'll have to see whether this is additional spending or just shopping which has happened earlier than usual. 

“The overall retail environment is still difficult. Discounting remains a key tactic for retailers trying to encourage consumers to spend, particularly on big indoor items. People are still struggling to balance household budgets against expensive fuel and utilities. The warmth of March was a help but it will take more than a week of sunshine to transform retailers’ fortunes.”

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said: “The clothing sector as a whole and non-food generally benefited from the warm March weather. But, as consumers' incomes continue to be squeezed, it's female shoppers who are tightening their purse strings most severely, focusing more on lower price point items to control the household budget. This buying behaviour saw women's clothing perform less strongly than men's and childrenswear. Home accessories and textiles also had a poor month.

“Increases in food prices rather than volumes was one of the factors behind the uplift in this month's figures. Rising petrol prices continued to drive up transport and manufacturing costs, causing food prices to increase each month since the start of the year. 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.”