UK retail sales values were up 5.2% on a like-for-like basis from April 2010, when sales had fallen 2.3% as only Easter Sunday and Monday fell into the April trading period.
This year all of Easter was in April’s trading period. On a total basis, sales were up 6.9%, against a 0.2% decrease in April 2010.
Food sales returned to growth after March’s Easter-distorted fall. Clothing and footwear benefited from the warm weather, as did outdoor DIY and leisure. But indoor products suffered, with big-ticket items hardest hit once again. This sector has often been promotion-led, amid continued consumer uncertainty about job and income prospects.
Non-food non-store (internet, mail-order and phone) sales growth picked up in April. Sales were 13.7% higher than a year ago, recovering from the exceptionally small 7.5% gain in March. Taking the two months together, underlying growth was little changed from earlier this year.
Commenting on the figures Stephen Robertson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said, “Easter and the Royal Wedding bank holiday provided a badly needed boost to many retailers during April. Food sales were strong leading up to Good Friday, suggesting most families prioritised their spending on the Easter celebrations. The hottest April since records began got people out spending on summer clothing and footwear.
“These sales figures are a relief after the dire sales falls we saw in March but they are not the full picture. The numbers are being compared with an April last year which was a time of uncertainty ahead of the General Election, and which didn’t include the main Easter trading period.
“Considered together, the results for March and April largely cancel each other out and the overall trend is flat. The underlying pressures on the retail sector of climbing costs and depressed consumer spending will be problems for many months to come. The Bank’s decision to maintain the freeze on interest rates was the right one and it’s important we see the economy performing much more strongly before there is any change in future.”
It is too soon to say if April was just a blip due to the timing of events or the turning of a corner away from the downward trend.
In Brighton a strong April has been followed by weaker figures in the first week of May. This is despite continuing good weather and the beginning of the May Festival. April was of course a month of festivals with the Spring Harvest event and the month long Shopping Festival.
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