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UK retail sales slump after April showers dampen spending

Lauretta Roberts
24 May 2024

Retail spending slumped by more than expected last month as shoppers were deterred by rainy weather, according to new official figures.

The amount of items bought across the UK fell by 2.3% in April, following a fall of 0.2% in March, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. March’s data has been revised down from a previous estimate of 0.0%. Some economists had been expecting a softer decline of 0.6% for the month.

The volume of sales fell across most sectors, with clothing retailers, sports equipment, games and toys stores, and furniture stores particularly dampened by poor weather reducing shopping trips.

The UK experienced storms and heavy rainfall during April, with several flood warnings issued across the country.

Across non-food shops, which the ONS says includes clothing and household stores, sales volumes tumbled by 4.1% in April. This was the joint steepest fall since January 2021.

Department stores and online retailers were among the few industries to see sales improve last month.

The value of sales also dropped sharply, according to the latest data, meaning price rises and more expensive purchases were not enough to boost the amount of cash retailers generated.

Analyst reaction

Deloitte Head of Retail Oliver Vernon-Harcourt

“April’s retail sales were more disappointing than expected, once again being dampened by wet weather, deterring shoppers from the high street and impacting the sale of seasonal items. Though consumer confidence continues to rise, many remain apprehensive and are not yet loosening their purse strings, especially on non-essential items and goods such as clothing and footwear.

“Consumers are focused on value, with the likes of own-label food remaining resilient. Overall, this is a clear sign that, despite inflation easing, retailers’ road to recovery will require them to continue to invest into product ranges that target consumers of all budgets.

“Summer is on the horizon, and with major sporting and entertainment events in the calendar, and the prospect of improved economic conditions to come, we would expect that this optimism filters through into increased spending and a more stable retail sector.”

Wealth Club Manager of the Quality Shares Portfolio Charlie Huggins

"Retail sales volumes came in much worse than expected in April. Wet and dull weather looks to be the major culprit causing consumers to hunker down, rather than venture out to the High Street.

"However, I'm not sure the finger can be pointed entirely at the weather Gods. Although online sales held up better than those in stores, they still fell by 1.2%. And there were declines across nearly every category, including food and fuel.

"While we should be careful not to over-interpret these weather-impacted figures, they do indicate that the UK consumer isn't out of the woods. Inflation may have moderated, but prices of most goods and services remain much higher than a couple of years ago. This continues to instill a sense of caution in consumer behaviour.

"With a looming general election likely to add to the uncertainty, retailers could be in for a tricky few months."

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