On a LFL basis, UK retail sales increased +1.4% YoY in March, when they had decreased 1.0% from the preceding year, according to the latest sumamry from BRC-KPMG. Sales rose +2.3%, against a decline of -0.2% in March 2017 – above the 3-month and 12-month averages of 1.8% and 1.9%, but positively distorted by the timing of Easter.

In LFL terms, furniture was the second strongest-performing category (a marked swing from March 2017, when it was the worst), with home accessories coming third.

Online sales of non-food products grew +7.9%, with furniture ranked fifth of 10 categories in terms of performance – a marked improvement on the 12-month average of ninth place. 

BRC chief-Executive Helen Dickinson OBE comments: “March paints a volatile picture for sales, which experienced peaks and troughs to deliver some modest growth on last year. The positive distortion from the timing of Easter pushed sales up by over 15% during the holiday week compared with the rest of the month, only just making up for a sub-zero performance at the start of the month.

“There’s no doubt that the ‘Beast from the East’ and its successor played a significant role in deterring shoppers from making store visits. But it didn’t dampen consumers’ appetites towards food purchases, which saw the anticipated spike from the Easter festivities. This was in stark contrast to non-food sales which, despite some promotional-driven activity, bore the brunt of consumers’ disinterest in typical springtime purchases, as well as the ongoing spending squeeze on non-essentials.

“There is hope that, with the gap between inflation and wage growth finally narrowing, consumers’ purse strings will slacken to some extent. But the grip on spending power will persist over the course of the year.

“So with the success of Brexit as the determinant of what we pay for products in 2021, the deal negotiated in the next six months needs to focus on reducing potential customs friction on the movement of goods between the UK and EU-27.”