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Retail sales growth hits six year low in BRC report

UK retail sales decreased by 1% on a like-for-like basis in March 2017, with the wider sales environment described as ‘underwhelming’ by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Covering the five weeks from 26 February to 1 April, the latest BRC – KPMG Retail Sales Monitor shows that total sales fell by 0.2% in March, compounded by flat growth in March 2016. This remains below the three-month average of 0.1% and the 12-month average of 0.8%, but is distorted slightly by the time of the Easter break.

Non-food sales in the UK declined 1.1% on a like-for-like basis over the three months to March, representing the slowest thee-month total average growth since May 2011. This also drags the 12-month total average growth down to just 0.3%, the lowest since April 2012.

Despite this, online sales of non-food products grew 7.4% and the jewellery and watch sector showed increases in like-for-like sales and total sales in March – perhaps because of Mother’s Day sales.

BRC Chief executive, Helen Dickinson OBE, commented: “First impressions of March’s sales figures are underwhelming, with the first decline since August last year. That said, the distortion which results from the timing of Easter always makes spring a tricky period to assess and the later timing of the holiday this year certainly detracted from last month’s performance.

“Mother’s Day gift purchases provided some compensation, boosting sales of beauty and stationary items in particular. Looking at the bigger picture though, the slowdown in non-food growth persists and it now stands at its lowest three-month average for nearly six years.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, added: “Retailers will be hoping Easter boosts retail sales in April, whether it is shoppers making the most of the holiday or those choosing to spruce up their homes. The new tax year marks further pressure on margins in the form of the apprenticeship levy and business rate changes, therefore tighter cost management and a focus on efficiency is more important than ever.”

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