Footwear was the only category in the retail sector to grow in March as clothing sales fell further below their year-earlier level to show the largest decline since August 2009.
Menswear and kidswear were the worst affected clothing categories during the month, which was impacted by the later fall of Easter this year.
Non-food sales for the three month period to the end of March fell 1.1% according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, however, the non-food category also includes big-ticket items such as homewares and furniture which are recognised as being hardest hit by the squeeze on spending. Clothing was the second best performing category after footwear, despite notching up an overall sales decline.
Across the entire sector retail total sales fell 1.9% year-on-year, with like-for-likes down 3.5% year-on-year.
BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “This is the worst drop in total sales since we first collected these figure in 1995. Non-food retailers were particularly hard-hit. This is strong evidence of the pressure customers and traders are under.
“This year’s later Easter is a factor but this fall goes way beyond anything that can be explained by that alone. Uncomfortably high inflation and low wage growth have produced the first year-on-year fall in disposable incomes for 30 years.
“Mounting fuel and utility costs, falling house prices, higher VAT and the prospect of more tax rises and job losses left people unwilling to spend unless they really had to.”
Menswear and kidswear were worst affected during the month, but womenswear was also down on a year ago. Uncertain prospects for jobs and incomes meant customers preferred to delay discretionary purchases and concentrated on core essentials. Several mid-season Sales and special events helped, but at a cost to margins. The warm sunny days benefited spring 11 ranges for some, with dresses, casual trousers, tops and blouses selling well, but others found cautious shoppers putting off purchases until spring really arrived.
Overall sales growth was similar to that in the previous few months, but often discount-driven. Gains for women’s – albeit against a weak March 2010 – and kid’s outweighed a further decline for men’s footwear. Special promotions and mid-season Sales helped to attract customers who, looking for good deals, were often prepared to wait for discounts. The sunnier days and new season ranges gave some boost to sandals but it was not widespread. Smarter footwear was often better than casuals, with fashion trends helping high heeled wedges, loafers and platforms.
Department store sales also slowed with sunnier days blamed for reduced footfall while consumer caution and the late Easter also hit sales. Several mid-season Sales and promotions attracted shoppers looking for deals and discounts. Clothing and footwear was generally slower, though with an uplift for spring 11 ranges for some.
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Non-food non-store sales growth slowed further in March to its worst since the index began in October 2008. Sales were only 7.5% up on a year ago, less than half the increase of 15.9% in March 2010 and much weaker than the 10.4% in February 2011. Uncertain prospects for jobs and incomes have hit non-store sales as well as store sales. Customers delayed discretionary purchases and concentrated on core essentials and sales were increasingly promotion-led.
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