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Retail sales fall back in March

March retail sales fell back 0.4% against February according to figures from the Office of National Statistics - representing the sharpest fall since January 2007.

However retail sales rose 2% in the three months to the end of March according to ONS figures. However, growth was primarily driven by sales of food.

Sales of textile, clothing and footwear for the quarter were up 3% against the same period in 2007 the ONS said.

The ONS said that it had expected March sales to be down because of the poor Easter, bad weather and the affect of the credit crunch. As a result of the overall quarterly increase, it said that underlying growth in retail sales "remained robust".

However the BRC said it disputed the ONS' claim, saying the three-month average for sales volume growth disguises a fall last month and hides the fact that sales are being driven by deep and widespread discounting.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: "These figures paint an overly rosy picture. Sales growth is far from robust. ONS' own figures show non-food prices falling at the fastest rate for more than 20 years, showing it is taking deep and widespread price-cutting to tempt customers to buy anything other than non-essentials."

"The BRC's March figures show total sales up only 1.1% on a year ago, largely explained by rising food prices, while like-for-like sales are down on a year ago for the first time in two years."

Robertson added: "With recent retail profit warnings, it's clear trading is extremely tough but retailers are fighting back by keeping prices low and delivering extra value."

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