Brexit uncertainty slows retail sales in March

UK retail sales decreased by 1.1% in March, compared with the increase of 1.4% in 2018, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Over the three months to March, in-store sales of non-food items declined 1.5% on a total basis and 1.7% on a like-for-like basis. This is above the 12-month total average decline of 2.1%. Online, the three-month and 12-month average growths were 4.5% and 6.4% respectively.

Additionally, over the three months to March, food sales increased 0.2% on a like-for-like basis and 1.3% on a total basis. This is below the 12-month total average growth of 2%. Online sales of non-food products grew 3% in March, against a growth of 7.9% in March 2018. The two year average growth was 5.4% per annum, a slowdown from February’s 5.9%.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the BRC, said: “Retail sales slowed in March, even when the Easter distortions were accounted for, as greater uncertainty caused people to hold off from splashing out. While jewellery, beauty products and clothing purchases were all up to indulge on Mother’s Day, shoppers were generally cautious not to overspend, particularly on larger items.

Brexit continues to feed the uncertainty among consumers. For the sake of everyone, MPs must rally behind a plan of action that avoids no deal – and quickly – or it will be ordinary families who suffer as a result of higher prices and less choice on the shelves.”

Sue Richardson, retail director UK at KPMG, added: “March marked a truly disappointing end to the first quarter of 2019 for retailers. Not only did total sales fall 0.5% compared to the same month last year, but no further clarity around Brexit came to light, and shoppers continue to waiver.

“Not all categories or channels suffered the same fate though, with clothing generally bagging a welcome reprieve thanks to more favourable weather – especially when compared to the Beast from the East this time last year.”

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