UK retail sales fell in April, with higher prices and poor weather blamed for keeping shoppers away.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said today that retail sales volumes were down 1.3% compared with March and the amount spent in the retail sector also decreased by 1.3%. Sales of food fell by 4.1%, the biggest monthly decline since May 2011.
Compared against April 2012, retail sales volumes last month were 0.5% higher but this was less than expected. The amount spent increased by 1.3%.
As with the monthly comparison, the greatest source of downward pressure came from the food sector, where the quantity of goods bought decreased by 3.8% and the amount spent was 0.2% lower year-on-year.
Consumers continued to turn to the Internet, with the average weekly spending online in April 2013 amounting to GBP571.7m which is an increase of 13.2% compared with April 2012. According to the ONS the amount spent online accounted for 10.0% of all retail spending excluding automotive fuel.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) took an optimistic view of the April retail sales figures, saying that they are better than they look.
“April this year didn’t benefit from an Easter boost as in 2012, so sales look weak by comparison, especially for food which had its worst ever performance. The ONS figures actually suggest that April was broadly in line with March, if you take out the distorting effect of Easter timings,” commented Helen Dickinson, BRC director general.
Dickinson also highlighted the fact that the changeable weather this April meant that it was a mixed month for retailers. As temperatures rose towards the end of the month, demand for new-season clothing and footwear lifted following a slow sales due to the prolonged wintry weather.
The British Chambers of Commerce found little to cheer about in the ONS figures. Its chief economist, David Kern, said that the fall in retail sales volumes is disappointing and indicates that UK economic growth in the second quarter will be lower than the 0.5% growth envisaged in last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report.