UK retail sales hit by wettest April on record

Retail sales in the UK were were dampened by the wettest April on record, according to a report released today by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor reveals that like-for-like sales fell 3.3% compared with April 2011, when sales rose 5.2% on a year earlier.

Comparisons for this time of the year are always affected by the timing of Easter. The BRC noted that this April’s comparison is with a very strong April 2011, which included all four days of Easter compared with only two in April 2010. In 2012 Easter was in early April, which meant that some Easter shopping was shifted into March.

Last April was also boosted by the Royal Wedding and the associated extra public holiday for people to shop or celebrate. Retailers are hoping that a 2012 feel-good factor will soon emerge in connection with this summer’s events, which include the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the London Olympic Games and the Euro 2012 football championships.

April’s heavy downpours and cold weather meant that consumers had little interest in summer fashions and outdoor products. Food retailers fared better, although the average shopping basket reflected the weather conditions, with shoppers choosing hot drinks, porridge, joints of meat and soups.

Meanwhile online sales of non-food items (including mail-order and phone sales) showed the weakest growth since November 2011, rising by 9.0% year-on-year against a relatively strong April 2011.

KPMG’s head of retail, Helen Dickinson, said that retail sales are expected to improve in May, but the overall health of the retail sector remains on a downward trajectory as people’s desire to consume “ever increasing volumes of goods” diminishes and advances in technology change the way we shop.