Saturday 21 September 2019

Retail sales bounce back but underlying picture subdued – ONS

Sales increased by 1.6% in April as retailers recovered after the March snow, the Office for National Statistics said.

The ONS said all sectors apart from department stores recovered from poor winter weather (Nick Ansell/PA)
The ONS said all sectors apart from department stores recovered from poor winter weather (Nick Ansell/PA)

By Josie Clarke, Press Association Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Retail sales bounced back in April in a recovery after the disruption caused by the Beast from the East but remain subdued, figures show.

Sales increased by 1.6% on March as all sectors except for department stores recovered from the exceptionally snowy weather that disrupted travel and kept shoppers at home, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

UK retail sales (three month change in volume) (PA Graphics)

However the three-month figure to April, which smooths out monthly volatility, shows sales remained relatively flat with just a slight increase of 0.1%.

The combined two months of March and April show a general slowdown on the same period last year, with growth at 1.3% compared with 2.9% for the two months in 2017.

Petrol sales showed the largest recovery in April, up 4.7% compared with a 6.9% fall last month as road closures caused by the snow affected travel.

However department stores suffered a 0.9% drop in sales in April following strong online sales the month before.

Online sales as a proportion of all shopping continued to grow at 17.3% on April last year, with food and clothing stores achieving a record proportion of sales online.

Rob Kent-Smith, head of national accounts at the ONS, said: “Retail sales bounced back in April, as petrol and other sales recovered from the snowfall.

“But the underlying position remains subdued with the volume of goods sold over the last six months broadly unchanged.

“Increases were seen across all sectors in April, except department stores.

“Department stores declined following relatively strong sales last month, when their online sales were boosted during the adverse weather.

“Over the longer-term, retail sales growth has slowed considerably, with increases in food, household goods and internet retailers being largely offset by declines across all other types of retailing.”

Andrew Westbrook, RSM’s head of retail, said: “Retail sales were slightly better than expected in April giving operators a chance to partially recover from the poor weather in March.

“However, while these numbers are encouraging, there is still a Darwinian struggle taking place on the UK high street.

“Many UK retailers are still reeling from the announced closure of 100 Marks & Spencer stores by 2022.

The announced closure of 100 MandS stores by 2022 will hit the high street, experts warned (Nick Ansell/PA)

“While this is bad news for M&S staff and its loyal customers, there’s also a damaging knock-on effect for other high street operators which rely on anchor tenants to draw in the punters.”

“The sales for the month of May could well be much brighter, buoyed by the tropical temperatures over the May Bank Holiday weekend and the excitement surrounding the royal wedding.

“While the ‘Markle sparkle’ may not have spared M&S its recent woes, other retailers could well have experienced a much-needed boost.”

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