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Fashion sales growth slows in March

Clothing and footwear sales growth slowed in March after a strong February as economic uncertainty caused shoppers to hold back on non-essential purchases.

The lacklustre performance from footwear and clothing contrasted with a 4.4% like-for-like increase in retail sales across all sectors in March, compared with March 2009. Total retail sales increased 6.6%, aided by Easter falling in the March trading period, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) - KPMG Retail Sales Monitor. This marked the best total sales growth since April 2006.

Total like-for-like non-food sales rose 1.8% in March, compared to March 2009.

Clothing

Menswear and kidswear fared worse than womenswear, although sales growth was down across all sectors as poor weather and uncertain economic conditions prompted shoppers to focus on core essentials.

A colder, wetter March than last year’s helped to clear discounted autumn 09 stock but hit sales of spring 10 lines. Transitional items such as light jersey pieces, leggings and shirts sold well. However, poor weather and concern over uncertain job market caused shoppers to hold back on non-essential items.

Footwear

Footwear saw its weakest growth since September 2009 as women’s footwear sales were worse than in February, falling back to just above where they were in March 2009. Kids’ footwear was roughly level with February 2010, while men’s footwear sales were slightly up on the previous month.

Like clothing, footwear sales were affected by colder weather than last March with autumn 09 clearance lines selling well, while spring 10 ranges got off to a slow start. Ballet pumps and shoe boots did well while sales of summer styles such as sandals were poor.

Accessories

Sales of handbags and jewellery benefited from the gift purchases boosted by Mother’s Day falling in March. Sales were also helped by people choosing to update outfits by accessorising rather than buying new clothing.

Department stores

The majority of department stores performed better in March than in February, with cold weather and mid-season promotions driving footfall. Department store clothing and footwear sales were mixed with some stores seeing a slow start to new season ranges.

Internet and mail order

Total internet, mail order and phone sales in March were 15.9% up on March 2009, a stronger growth than in February, when sales rose 15.5% year on year. However, sales were often driven by discounting.

“Pressure on margins”

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “These are strong figures – the best total sales growth since April 2006, but they would have been only half as good without the distorting effect of Easter.”    

Helen Dickinson head of retail at KPMG, said: “Retailers are fighting hard to encourage shoppers and offer value, which has slowed the rise in shop prices over the month, but how long they will be able to sustain this, given the pressure on margins, is debatable. Women’s clothing and footwear were the worst performers due to the ongoing cold spell and comparisons with a sunny start to spring in 2009.”

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