19 Apr 2018

Beast eats into March retail sales

The weather was yet again a feature of this morning’s retail sales for March 2018, as the Beast from the East ate into the figures – but there could be some brighter skies on the horizon.

The key findings from the Retail Statistics showed:

  • In the three months to March 2018 (Quarter 1), the quantity bought in retail sales fell by 0.5% when compared with Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2017, with declines in all sectors except for department stores and non-store retailing.
  • The month-on-month growth rate fell by 1.2% due to a large fall of 7.4% from petrol sales; a likely consequence of adverse weather conditions, which impacted travel.
  • Department stores were the only sector to show positive growth in March at 0.8%, with feedback from retailers suggesting that online offers for Mothering Sunday and Easter boosted internet sales more than usual during the adverse weather.
  • The quantity bought in supermarket stores declined in March, while specialist food stores saw strong growth; possibly due to the easier access to these stores during snow.
  • Online sales accounted for 17.4% of all retailing, seasonally adjusted in March 2018, compared with 15.9% in March 2017; the strongest growth on the same month a year earlier came from department stores at 33%.

Phil Mullis, Partner and Head of Retail and Wholesale at top-20 UK accountancy firm, Wilkins Kennedy, said: “The retail sales were far from spring-like but at least it looks like it had a good impact on online sales as people preferred (or rather had) to shop from the warmth of their own home.  Retailers with strong online presence should have seen some real benefit.

“We also had Mother’s Day and the Easter Holiday during March, which could explain the small growth in department stores sales, particularly online – but the rest of the retail sales remained flat.

“There could be some brighter skies on the horizon. Inflation dropped to 2.5% in March whilst wage growth reached 2.8% at the end of February - the first time wages have exceeded inflation in a while. Hopefully this could mean April retail sales show some growth, as people have more disposable income and there may also be some deferred spending from March to factor in.”

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