UK retail sales fall for first time in two years

UK retail sales fell by 1.6% in March 2008, despite the early Easter, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The fall in like-for-like sales, compared with March 2007, was the worst since July 2005.

The squeeze on retailers helped contain inflation, with official figures also out today showing the consumer prices index remaining static last month at 2.5%.

The BRC said that although comparisons were difficult because of the early Easter, poor weather and staggered school holidays, “the additional spending for Easter being in March this year but in April last year would normally be expected to result in a year-on-year increase in sales.”

Food sales slowed after two strong months and clothing and footwear were the worst for at least eight years.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “This is the first year-on-year fall in like-for-like sales for two years and the worst result for nearly three years.

“Here is the strongest evidence yet that customers are making serious economies and are increasingly concerned about the future. With recent retail profit warnings, it is further proof that trading is extremely tough but retailers are fighting back by keeping prices low and delivering extra value.

“Almost every sector except food saw sales down on a year ago. It’s clear customers are concentrating on essentials.”

UK retail sales fell by 1.6% in March 2008, despite the early Easter, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
The fall in like-for-like sales, compared with March 2007, was the worst since July 2005.

The squeeze on retailers helped contain inflation, with official figures also out today showing the consumer prices index remaining static last month at 2.5%.

The BRC said that although comparisons were difficult because of the early Easter, poor weather and staggered school holidays, “the additional spending for Easter being in March this year but in April last year would normally be expected to result in a year-on-year increase in sales.”

Food sales slowed after two strong months and clothing and footwear were the worst for at least eight years.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “This is the first year-on-year fall in like-for-like sales for two years and the worst result for nearly three years.

“Here is the strongest evidence yet that customers are making serious economies and are increasingly concerned about the future. With recent retail profit warnings, it is further proof that trading is extremely tough but retailers are fighting back by keeping prices low and delivering extra value.

“Almost every sector except food saw sales down on a year ago. It’s clear customers are concentrating on essentials.”

Food and drink

Food sales slowed again after two strong months, to show the weakest growth since July 2007.

Easter gave the usual seasonal boost to confectionery and gift food but, in order to drive sales, promotions and price deals were often stronger than last year’s, said the BRC.

With shoppers increasingly price-conscious, value lines did well, but premium healthy-eating ranges continued to show growth for some. Wines and spirits sales rose before the Budget tax increases took effect.

IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch said: “Annual comparisons are hard to read this month owing to the phasing of Easter as the figures cover different holiday weeks from the equivalent period in 2007.

“However wintry weather will have dampened appetites for arriving summer lines. Therefore grocery retailers will need to redouble their efforts to win custom through a compelling package of range, promotions and price.

“A critical period lies ahead which will show how effective retailers have been in satisfying the needs of customers increasingly intent on hunting out value from a competitive marketplace.”

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