Retail like-for-like sales rose 4.6% in April, with clothing showing the strongest growth since late 2006, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Total retail sales were up 6.3% over the month. However the British Retail Consortium urged caution and pointed to the later Easter calender date coupled with the warmer weather, which it said made direct comparisons with 2008 difficult.
Within clothing warmer weather and added discounting boosted spend on summer clothes. The BRC said fashion sales had been led by womenswer and kidswear, which was particularly helped by the school holidays.
“It would be great if the historically weak performance of the last 12 months was behind us but we shouldn’t celebrate yet.”
Stephen Robertson, director general, British Retail Consortium
Within womenswear summer dresses, T-shirts and casual blouses were popular but formal styles lagged. Menswear also lagged behind. There were some gains on casual summer garments but suits and formal shirts were weaker.
Footwear showed its best year-on-year growth since May 2008. Gains came from women’s and kid’s styles, with sandals and summer casuals selling well. Formal styles remained difficult. Value players benefited most because the ongoing squeeze on consumer spending but premium ranges also showed gains for some retailers.
Trade was mixed across the department store sector but the sunny weather did boost sales of clothing and footwear.
Internet and mail order sales of non-food categories were ahead 12.5%, slightly ahead of March when growth stood at 10.8% but not to the levels seen in November and December (30%), suggesting online sales are still coming under pressure from the recession. The BRC pointed out that the gap between growth in internet sales and sales from bricks-and-mortar stores had narrowed.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “The best sales growth for three years is good news but let’s be cautious. A sunny Easter that fell in April this year is the key reason why overall sales are up compared with last year when Easter was in March and miserable. Sales of garden goods, outdoor leisure, clothing and food did well but other non-food sectors missed out on the seasonal boost and the total spent on food rose less than food inflation, indicating the amount sold dropped.”
Robertson added: “Following a tough winter, there’s some pent up demand but there’s no reason to think customers suddenly feel flush or eager to spend. With unemployment set to grow through the rest of the year, mounting jobs worries will hold back spending for some time. It would be great if the historically weak performance of the last 12 months was behind us but we shouldn’t celebrate yet.”
Like-for-like non-food sales from February through April remained 2.9% behind, including food sales, like-for-like retail sales were ahead 0.4% over the three months.