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Wet weather blamed as retail sales slump in March
21 April 2023

Retailers saw sales fall in March as poor weather impacted Britons heading to the shops. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that retail sales volumes declined by 0.9% last month as clothes shops, department stores and garden centres all reported declines.

The decline in overall sales was heavier than expected, with economists predicting a 0.5% decline for the month. It comes after retailers reported a 1.1% increase in sales volumes in February, with the ONS marginally downgrading its original 1.2% growth figure.

Darren Morgan, ONS Director of Economic Statistics, said: “Retail fell sharply in March as poor weather impacted on sales across almost all sectors. However, the broader trend is less subdued as a strong performance from retailers in January and February means the three-month picture shows positive growth for the first time since August 2021.”

Non-food retailers reported a 1.3% fall in March, swinging sharply from a 2.4% increase in February as retailers said “poor weather conditions throughout most of March affected sales”.

The ONS revealed department stores saw volumes drop by 3.2% for the month, while clothing shops reported a 1.7% fall. Meanwhile, sales at food shops dropped by 0.7%, which the ONS said “may have been affected by shortages” of some food products.

Supermarkets introduced limits on the number of certain items, such as tomatoes, peppers and salad, that shoppers could buy during the month after supply was impacted by poor weather in northern Africa and Spain.

The figures showed that the amount of food bought by shoppers is 3% lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in February 2020.

However, the amount of money being spent by shoppers is significantly higher after soaring food inflation. Earlier this week, official figures showed food inflation hit a 45-year-high of 19.1% last month.

Lisa Hooker, Industry Leader for Consumer Markets at PwC, said: “The slowdown in March looks like it was a result of specific factors, and not indicative of a longer term trend.

“So fresh food shortages earlier in the month limited grocery sales volumes, while the wettest March in England for over 40 years put a dampener on high street sales, with the likes of new season fashion and garden centre sales suffering as a result.

“However, while March’s rain may have washed out the green shoots from February, the overall momentum of the retail sector remains positive, and better than many expected at the start of 2023.”

It came after separate data from market research firm GfK showed that British consumers were the most upbeat in more than a year this month.

The consumer confidence index improved by six points to a reading of -30, representing the highest reading since February last year, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine which accelerated inflation.

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