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BRC figures show retail sales impacted by wettest April on record

The wettest April on record dampened demand for summer fashion as retailers suffered their biggest sales falls for more than a year, figures from the British Retail Consortium revealed on Wednesday.

Like-for-like sales dropped a "disappointing" 3.3pc - the worst performance since March 2011 - driven by "substantial" falls for clothes retailers and the worst footwear trading since January 2008, the BRC said.

The trend was made worse because many shoppers had already splurged on summerwear in March's heatwave, while the period was up against tough comparatives with the previous year when hot weather and the Royal Wedding boosted sales of partywear and food.

Online retailers also saw demand slow amid the dreary weather, while supermarkets felt the pain despite the cold weather boosting sales of winter warmers, such as hot drinks, porridge, meat for stewing and soup.

However, there was a silver lining as sales of floor coverings and homewares, such as bedding, linen and lighting, received a boost as the depressing weather prompted people to give their homes a facelift.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "The wettest April since records began has put a dampener on retailers' fortunes.

He said retailers, who have been hurt by the squeeze on consumers' spending power in recent years, are hoping that the diamond jubilee, Olympics and Euro 2012 football championships in coming months will boost demand and help the "feel-good factor" return.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at survey partner KPMG, said while sales in March were up 1.3pc amid the heatwave, this was more than outweighed by April's falls.

She added: "Anything other than chilly winds and showers seems a distant memory for consumers and this sums up the mood of many retailers.

"While May will certainly be brighter than April, the health of the retail sector continues on a downward trajectory."

The survey revealed that retailers continue to have to put on special offers and discounts to tempt consumers who are wary of spending amid rising unemployment and the UK's economic malaise.

The wet weather hit sales of gardening products, such as lawnmowers, plants and tools, but indoor DIY was mixed as people looked to improve their homes but continued to shy away from so-called "big ticket items", such as fitted kitchens and bathrooms.

The situation for electronics items remained challenging despite TV sales gaining a boost from the digital switchover in the South East, and strong demand for the new iPad and the Kindle.

Sales of toiletries and cosmetics were lower than a year ago, as the boost from cough and cold medicines failed to offset the decline in hayfever remedies and suncreams.

Online was still the quickest growing part of the retail sector, up by 9%, but its growth slowed from 14% last year as the market begins to mature.

Mr Robertson added: "You'd think relentless downpours would help online retailing as people shop more at home - and there was some extra interest in gear for cold and wet weather.

"But any gains there were more than offset by consumers switching away from summer goods and by continuing consumer caution."

Source : The Telegraph

09 May 2012
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