Dismal weather leads to disappointing retail sales in April

Dismal weather and disappointing sales led to a depressing start to Spring for retailers, even accounting for the change in timing of Easter.

According to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, UK Total retail sales decreased by 4.0% year on year in April, against a growth of 5.1% in April 2023. This was below the 3-month average growth of 0.5% and the 12-month average growth of 2.2%. When correcting for the distortion created by the earlier timing of Easter, the average growth for March and April together was +0.2%.

Food sales increased 4.4% year on year over the three months to April, against a growth of 9.8% in April 2023. Non-Food sales decreased 2.8% year on year over the three-months to April, against a growth of 1.2% in April 2023. This is steeper than the 12-month average decline of 1.5%. For the month of April, Non-Food was in decline year-on-year.

In-store Non-Food sales over the three months to April decreased 2.4% year on year, against a growth of 3.9% in April 2023. This is below the 12-month average decline of 0.7%.

Online Non-Food sales decreased by 5.5% year on year in April, against a decline of 3.6% in April 2023. This was steeper than the 3-month and 12-month declines of 3.5% and 3.0% respectively. The online penetration rate (the proportion of Non-Food items bought online) increased to 36.2% in April from 36.1% in April 2023. This was slightly higher than the 12-month average of 36.1%.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “People delayed typical Spring purchases despite retailers’ attempts to entice customers with heavy discounts. A dull, wet April dampened sales growth for clothing and footwear, especially outdoor sportswear, as well as DIY and garden furniture. Promotions in computing did boost sales as many sought to upgrade their tech a few years post the pandemic surge in tech sales. Many retailers are hoping for brighter sales over the summer months as social events ramp up, and consumer confidence could improve with a potential cut in interest rates.

“A strong retail industry is vital for a strong economy, and it is vital the next Government recognises this if it wants to boost investment in our towns and cities. Retail is nearly 10% of employment in every region and plays a unique role in building communities and generating local economic growth. The Government must champion pro-growth policies to help unlock important investment in many left-behind regions.”

Linda Ellett, UK Head of Consumer, Retail & Leisure, KPMG, said: “The positive sales growth seen in March was short lived as the impact of an early Easter and continued wet and chilly weather saw April retail sales fall by 4% year on year. Health, beauty and personal care sales remained resilient categories and there was a surprised return to positive sales growth for computing for the first time in over two years, both instore and online.  The food category is always buoyed by Easter, but looking at the three month figures food and drink shows positive sales growth, albeit dampened volumes.  Online and high street sales across categories that can be delayed, including clothing and footwear, remain subdued as no one is rushing out yet for summer clothing.

“On paper consumers should arguably be feeling more able to go out spending again as economic conditions improve, but on the back of two years of budgeting and cost cutting, cautious consumers are releasing the purse-strings much more slowly than they tightened them, choosing to save or pay down debt.  The positive sales figures seen in March due to an early Easter demonstrate the importance that triggers such as warmer weather, events and occasions can have in helping to deliver the necessary impact required to get consumers spending again.  Retailers will be hoping that there might still be an early summer interest rate cut, a strong performance from England and Scotland in the Euros, and an uptick in temperatures.  Together this might be the trigger to boost consumers’ willingness to spend in the weeks ahead.”

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