Ruth Mitchell

Member Article

Retail sales register a surprise pick up

Retail sales in the UK registered a surprise pick-up in March, led by strong food and non-store sales.

Sales volumes reportedly rose 0.2% compared with a month earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Market analysts had expected a much weaker number after a downbeat survey was released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) last week.

It follows a revised 0.9% drop in sales in February - a fall that had also caught analysts by surprise.

The ONS said in its latest retail sales bulletin that the volume of sales was up 1.3% compared with March 2010 on a seasonally adjusted basis - which takes account of the fact that Easter fell in March last year.

Food stores saw their sales rebound 0.7% compared with February, which had been a very weak month for them, but remain 1% lower than a year ago.

Non-store sales continued to register strong growth - up 0.6% against February, and up 13.1% versus a year earlier - in part reflecting the continuing shift of business online.

The ONS estimates that internet sales now comprise 9.8% of all non-fuel retail sales in the UK by value.

The British Retail consortium said that the figures are more positive than expected but still confirm a worrying downward trend in sales.

Director General of the British Retail Consortium, Stephen Robertson, said: “This is a more positive picture than from our own figures which showed the value of total sales below a year earlier. But the ONS may revise down their March figures as they have just done for January and February.

“Even so, the ONS figures confirm a worrying downward trend for retail sales. Annual growth in sales values is a quarter of what it was in January and the worst since April last year which was hit by the earlier Easter.

“With DIY, clothing and even food sales suffering, it’s clear customers are cutting back and extremely reluctant to spend despite a mass of promotions and discounts.

“This April’s figures will be helped by Easter and the Royal Wedding. That’s welcome but won’t change the fundamentally weak conditions likely to undermine consumer confidence for some time yet.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Ruth Mitchell .

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