Shoppers spending but retailers feeling the pinch
THERE are tentative signs that shoppers are more willing to spend, but retailers insist they are hampered by council rates.
Sales of cars, and furniture and lighting helped push a modest 1.7pc rise in purchases last month.
And, over the year to March, sales were up almost 9pc.
However, Retail Ireland described the figures as "disappointing" as it was failing to translate into a rise in turnover for shop owners.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show the volume of sales actually dropped 1.1pc during the month when motor car sales were excluded.
Retail Ireland said the figures were a clear sign of the "aggressive discounting" needed to grow footfall in many sectors.
Stephen Lynam, the body's director, said sales of clothing, hardware, furniture, electrical items and books all rose.
"The double-digit growth in furniture sales is indicative of a stronger property market, and long may that continue," he said. "However, these increases were offset by falls in sales in supermarkets, specialised food shops like butchers, and department stores."
Mr Lynam said local authority rates were still hitting retailers hard.
He urged retailers to tackle their local election candidates on what action they intend to take to "reduce the burden on struggling retailers".
Mark Fielding, from ISME, representing small and medium shops, said there were many issues impacting on the trade including illegal tobacco, unlicensed alcohol products and the "general expansion of the black economy".
Mr Fielding said a consultation forum was promised by the Government in February's Action Plan for Jobs but "nothing has been done".
Alan McQuaid, from Merrion Stockbrokers, said consumer sentiment was running at a near seven-year high.
"Although there is still a general air of caution among consumers, there seems to be a view that the worst is over following the downturn of recent years," he said.
He pointed out that 'core' sales, excluding motor cars, had been higher on an annual basis in nine of the past 11 months.