March was a tough month on the High Street, with the British Retail Consortium today reporting the worst sales fall for at least 16 years.
UK retail sales values were down 1.9 per cent on a total basis from March 2010, when sales had risen 6.6 per cent, boosted by Easter. On a like for like basis, sales were 3.5 per cent lower, against a 4.4 per cent increase last March.
Like for like food sales fell well below their year-earlier level and non food sales showed an even larger decline.
"This is the worst drop in total sales since we first collected these figures in 1995," said Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC. "Non-food retailers were particularly hard hit. This is strong evidence of the pressure customers and traders are under. This year's later Easter is a factor, but this fall goes way beyond anything that can be explained by that alone."
Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, added: "We have seen the emergence of new lower spending patterns since the middle of January, which are currently continuing downwards. Many retailers will not be able to sustain this ongoing weakness in demand beyond the short-term and are hoping for some good news around the extended bank holiday period and a feel-good factor driven by the Royal Wedding."
Sector performances for the period saw clothing sales falling further below their year-earlier level, to show the largest decline since August 2009. Men's and children's were worst affected. Home accessories and textiles sales were both worsened further, showing their largest declines for two years. Meanwhile, in leisure goods, book sales showed their largest year on year fall since 2005, computer and electronic games were slow, while toy sales were mixed and often promotion-led.