Footwear sales showed the largest decline since January 2008 and clothing sales dropped substantially as wet weather deterred shoppers from adding to their spring wardrobes.
UK retail sales values were down 3.3% on a like-for-like basis compared to April 2011, when they were up 5.2% on the year before. On a total basis, sales were down 1% according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.
However due to the timings of Easter analysis for March and April is difficult. This year’s April is up against a very strong April 2011, which included all four days of Easter compared with only two in April 2010.
Sales declined “substantially” year-on-year due to exceptionally wet weather this April compared to hot temperatures around the same time last year. Womenswear and kidswear suffered more than menswear, with rainwear, knitwear, jackets and trousers more popular options than tops, skirts and dresses. Denim was a strong choice with sales of traditional blue denim dropping off in favour of coloured shades.
There was a continued focus on essentials and buying in promotions and Sale events as consumer uncertainty about jobs lingered. Sales of handbags and jewellery benefitted from people accessorising existing clothes rather than splashing out on a whole new outfit.
Sales of footwear had the largest decline since January 2008 despite men’s sales showing a small gain, with women’s and kids footwear sales “well down” on a year ago. Many retailers found further discounts and promotions failed to attract customers.
Sales of summer shoes and sandals were hit by the cold wet weather but flat shoes, ballerina pumps and smart work shoes showed gains for some. Value lines and plain styles which can be worn for both work and leisure continued to be favoured with purse strings tightened.
Wet weather boosted footfall across department stores as promotions and special events helped tempt shoppers to buy. However, clothing and footwear sales remained tough in the unseasonable weather.
Internet, phone and mail order
Online sales of non-food items showed slower growth, though against a relatively strong April 2011. Sales were 9% up on a year ago, the weakest since November 2011. The BRC said the general trend for online retail is a slowing rate of growth, which is a sign that the market is maturing. There was major growth in sales made via mobiles but it is still a “very small proportion” of all the business being done.
Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “The wettest April since records began has put a dampener on retailers’ fortunes. Consumer interest in summer fashions and outdoor products was washed away by constant downpours.”
He added: “It would have been difficult for this April to out-perform April 2011 even with favourable weather, but these numbers are still disappointing. The long Easter weekend was a peak time for many retailers but its position earlier in the month shifted some Easter shopping into March. In addition, April last year was boosted by the Royal Wedding and the accompanying extra day-off for people to shop or celebrate. Retailers are keeping everything crossed that a 2012 feel-good factor from this summer’s events kicks in soon.
“Consumers, struggling to balance their household budgets, remain reluctant to spend unless they really have to and the weakening economy is likely to mean people are even more cautious about their finances. With any significant improvement in the difficult underlying conditions a long way off, a lift in the public mood would at least give retailers a short-term boost.”