Persistent consumer caution left retail sales below expectations in April despite the warm weather over Easter easing the strain on food and garden stores.
Total retail sales increased by 4.1% year on year in April, above both the three-month and 12-month average rises of 1.2% and 1.4% respectively, the BRC (British Retail Consortium)-KMPG retail sales monitor said.
However the BRC said the figures were distorted by Easter falling in April rather than last year’s March, and suggested that two-year average growth figures of 0.4%, a slowdown from the previous month’s 0.9%. were a more accurate reflection of the sector.
The report was released as a separate study from Barclaycard showed consumer spending grew by 2.5% year on year in April, bolstered by pubs and restaurants reaching double-digit growth of 13.1% and 10% respectively as Britons made the most of the sunny bank holiday weather.
The BRC-KPMG report showed that, on a like-for-like basis, UK retail sales were up 3.7% from April 2018.
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said retailers reaped the rewards of Easter and better weather in April, but warned of remaining mindful of the distortion in the holiday’s timing.
He said: “Looking at sub-categories, food retailers were clear winners as families came together for festive feasts and even braved their first picnic or barbecue of the year.
“The long weekend also helped children’s toys and furniture sales, as parents looked to keep youngsters entertained as they returned to home and garden improvements.
“April may have eased the strain on retailers somewhat, but we can’t overlook the fact that the new tax year also presents retailers with additional costs ranging from increased minimum wages to additional pension contributions.
BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said: “Retail sales were below expectation this month as the sunshine over the Easter weekend persuaded many to pursue recreational, rather than retail, activities.
“Department stores, as well as clothing and footwear shops, were harder hit by the warmer weather, while food-to-go fared much better from it.
“Online accounted for a little under 30% of all non-food sales, and we expect this proportion to continue to rise. Nonetheless, the pace of growth has slowed over the course of the year despite the investment by many stores in their digital offering.”