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BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor: March sales distorted by late Easter

UK retail sales were down 1.7% on a like-for-like basis from March 2013, when they had increased 1.9% on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were down 0.3%, against a 3.7% increase in March 2013.

The 3-month average total growth was 2.1%, just below the 12-month trend of 2.4%. A clearer underlying picture should appear in April, when the Easter distortion is reversed.

The Food and Home categories, the most affected by the Easter distortion, showed a decline, while the fashion categories showed record growth, flattered by a low comparable period.

Online sales of non-food products in the UK grew 12.8% in March versus a year earlier. The online penetration rate achieved 17.3% in March. Excluding online sales, total Non-food sales would have shown a decline in March.

Helen Dickinson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said: "These sales figures are stronger than might have been expected given the fact that Easter has fallen so late this year.

"Fashion has performed particularly well. Retailers have worked hard to create popular new collections, and have been rewarded with strong demand for women's clothing and footwear in particular. This improves on the slow start to the season last year when shoppers were more reluctant to spruce up their wardrobes.

"Unsurprisingly compared to last year, categories that perform strongly over the extended Easter break have seen lower sales. Household accessories and furniture are often key purchases over the holiday, and have seen a decline. With the later school holidays, the same has been the case for children's clothing. Retailers will be looking forward to April's results to see how this balances out over the period."

David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG, said: On face value retail sales in March appear flat, but in fact the figures are distorted by the timing of Easter, which fell in March last year boosting sales and making direct comparisons difficult.

Putting Easter distortions aside, the overall picture looks encouraging. The long term trend shows that sales are moving in a positive direction, albeit it at a rate of 2.1 per cent which is just above inflation. Sales of clothing and footwear fared well this month, helped by favourable weather. This is a very different picture to last year when cold weather depressed sales and fashion retailers had a dismal month.

There are, however, areas of concern. Food sales fell in like-for-like value again this month and the decision by some of the major grocers to go head to head in a billion pound price war will exacerbate this situation. Investors and analysts will be keeping a keen eye on the sector as they wait to see how these discounts will impact profits and performance, but the winner in this case will be the consumer.

Looking ahead, the Easter effect and the school holidays should deliver a healthy boost to sales in April. If the weather is fine, shoppers will head to the high street to enjoy the bank holiday break, helping sales of spring ranges, home accessories and children's clothing.

Source : BRC

15 April 2014
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Thank you for the excellent presentation that you gave at Woodbury Park on Thursday morning. It was very interesting and thought-provoking for our Retail members. The feedback has been excellent.

Martin Elliott. Chief Executive - Home Hardware.

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