High street sales were hampered by the early Easter, chaotic school holiday calendar and wintry weather over the bank holiday weekend.
Multiples told Drapers it was impossible to compare this Easter like-for-like with last year because there were so many variables, but added that trade had been poor as consumers tightened their belts amid nervousness about the economy.
Figures from data company Springboard, which counts shopper numbers, showed that Easter footfall was down 19.7% against last Easter.
The boss of one young fashion multiple said: "When there is snow on the ground and you haven't got much money, you don’t need much of a reason not to visit the shops. We are pleased with our performance over Easter because our stock levels were very tight, although the mass market is still difficult. But this week is pay week and hopefully the weather will improve."
The chief executive of one womenswear chain was slightly more positive. He said: "Taking into account the early holiday, dreadful weather and the fact there was a lot of discounting among our rivals, it was OK. Shopping centres were significantly busier than town centre sites and department store concessions did a bit better than our high street stores."
However, the director of one footwear chain said: "Trade has been terrible and we’re in for a really tough April. Some of the bigger multiples have too much stock and are starting to panic discount already. The high street is awash with Sales. It’s madness. I just hope we get good weather in July, when we will be up against soft comparatives from last summer’s floods."
The director of one premium branded mini-chain said Easter sales had been good, but warned: "Our best performing category has been casual womenswear, and I put that down to improved buying on our part. Everyone is affected by economic woes and sometimes the premium sector can be hardest hit."
Separately, mainstream womenswear independents said sales were unaffected by the early Easter and the unseasonally cold weather over the bank holiday weekend.
In a straw poll of womenswear indies, the majority of retailers told Drapers that sales were steady and that although footfall was lower, trading over the Easter weekend had been boosted by shoppers planning early holidays to the sun.
Jan Shutt, owner of Sunday Best in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, said: "Two weeks before Easter we were phenomenally busy. But we were shovelling snow on Saturday, so that didn't help. Despite that our sales are up on last year and ironically we have placed repeat orders on white linen trousers, which is mad."
Sue Loach, owner of Upstairs Downstairs in Ripon, North Yorkshire, said many of her customers had booked holidays to escape the snow, which had lifted sales of lightweight spring product.
She said: "A lot of people have taken early holidays, so T-shirts have done well. However, despite being on trend, tailoring is not selling well. Considering the snow, trade wasn’t bad. Those that came out intended to buy, so there was lower footfall but better sales."
At Fall Woman in Knutsford, Cheshire, manager Pauline Tyrer said: "It wasn't any busier than last Easter, but we had an extremely good March last year. We’ve had horrid weather this year, but I'm optimistic about the rest of the season. There is talk of doom and gloom, but I'm not feeling it from my shoppers."
Occasionwear specialist Wish in Glasgow said it was in the midst of its busiest time of year, with teenagers buying prom dresses. Wish manager Georgina Boswell told Drapers: "We opened on Good Friday and Easter Saturday, then we closed on Sunday but opened from 12pm on Monday. It's our busiest couple of weeks of the year because the schoolgirls have their exams after Easter so they want to buy dresses now."
"Most of Glasgow's stores were open over the same sort of period, but they seemed pretty quiet."