Slow start, strong finish for April retail sales

Last month’s retail sales values were down 2.2% on a like-for-like basis from April 2012, when they had declined 3.3% on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were down 0.6%, against a 1% decline in April 2012, according to figures from the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Growth was negatively impacted by the timing of Easter, which fell in April last year but in March this year. The 3-month total growth average, which irons out the Easter distortions, was 2.6%. It remained above the long-term 12-month average, which continued on an uptrend to reach 2.5%.

British Retail Consortium (BRC) Director General Helen Dickinson said: “On the surface these are really poor figures, but they’re hiding another respectable month. Taking away the Easter distortion, this was actually a better month than March, especially for non-food sales.

“There’s a sense that people are more prepared to spend than they were – but chief executives are telling me that’s volatile. A convincing trend towards revival is hard to spot and competitive pricing is still critical to generating sales.

“Essentially, so far this year, sales growth is a small and tentative step up on where it was in 2012 but when it will take the next step is not clear.”

KPMG Head of Retail David McCorquodale said: “This was always going to be a tricky month. As predicted, April’s sales have been negatively affected by Easter falling in March this year. So statistically the figures, with like-for-like sales down 2.2%, look depressing when compared with last year’s rain-soaked April.

“However, taking the three month weighted average, which smooths out the effect of the timing of Easter, the total increase in retail sales was 2.6%. This is a positive result and shows that, despite the cold weather of the last few months, the health of the retail sector is holding up and may be on a positive trajectory. It’s yet to be seen at what margins these sales are being achieved, and what is the cost of fulfilling the online demand, but retailers will be heartened by this momentum.

He concluded: “We hope for more good weather and good news over May and June as retailers look for a strong performance after last year’s early summer deluge.”

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