Wet weather and shaky consumer confidence give retailers longest dip in sales since pandemic

Inflation has slowed to a two-year low of 4.6 per cent on the back of falling energy prices that will all but ensure that Rishi Sunak meets his pledge to halve price growth by the end of the year.

Retailers in the UK are facing the longest dip in sales since the Covid-19 pandemic, with high street sales and footfall dampened by wet weather and shaky consumer confidence, according to a recent survey by BDO, a consultancy.

The survey revealed that total in-store and online sales fell by 2.2 per cent in March, marking the sixth consecutive month of decline for retail sales. This decline, occurring over the early Easter weekend, suggests that unfavorable weather conditions may have deterred consumers from visiting brick-and-mortar stores.

Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, commented on the results, stating that they “continue to paint a bleak picture for retailers,” despite the occurrence of events like the Easter bank holiday weekend and Mother’s Day in March. The pressure on the sector is evident, with several high-profile insolvencies on the high street, including The Body Shop and Ted Baker.

The homeware sector saw a particularly steep decline in March, falling by 10.9 per cent, the worst monthly result since May 2022. Although fashion was the only category to see positive non-store results, with a 1.5 per cent growth, it failed to offset the decline in in-store sales, which dropped by 6 per cent.

Weak demand for household goods contributed to the overall decline in retail sales, while fashion and lifestyle products were among the few categories to see improvement in sales volumes.

Household finances are still recovering from the significant cost of living crisis, with inflation at a four-decade high and interest rates at their highest in 16 years. Consumer confidence, as measured by GfK, has remained subdued in recent months.

Retail footfall also experienced a decline, dropping by 1.3 per cent on an annual basis in March, according to research by the British Retail Consortium and Sensormatic IQ. However, this was an improvement from the 6.2 per cent drop in February. Footfall declined primarily in England, while Wales and Northern Ireland saw slight increases.

Andy Sumpter, of Sensormatic Solutions, said: “The choppy nature of footfall recovery we’ve seen over the past few months indicates that consumer confidence is yet to fully turn a corner, meaning we may see a bumpy recovery in shopper traffic in the months ahead.”

Despite these challenges in the retail sector, other economic indicators suggest that the UK economy is strengthening, with GDP returning to growth at the beginning of the year and private sector activity increasing for five consecutive months, as indicated by the latest purchasing managers’ index.

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Wet weather and shaky consumer confidence give retailers longest dip in sales since pandemic