Soggy April puts dampener on retail figures

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THE wettest April since records began hit sales of summer clothing and shoes last month, as retailers posted their biggest fall in sales in more than a year.

The bleak news from retailers will further complicate the Bank of England’s decision today on whether to give another cash boost to the economy, which slipped into recession at the beginning of the year.

The British Retail Consortium said that like-for-like retail sales fell 3.3 per cent in value terms compared with April 2011, following a 1.3 per cent rise in March.

The reading, the weakest since March last year, was disappointing with analysts’ forecasting a 0.5 per cent increase.

Stephen Robertson, BRC Director General, said the wettest April since records began had hit sales of summer clothing and outdoor products, while a long Easter weekend early in the month meant that some Easter shopping was shifted into March.

“It would have been difficult for this April to outperform April 2011 even with favourable weather, but these numbers are still disappointing,” said Mr Robertson.

“April last year was boosted by the royal wedding and the accompanying extra day off for people to shop or celebrate.”

Shopping in March received an extra boost from unusually warm weather.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said: “Anything other than chilly winds and showers seems a distant memory for consumers and this sums up the mood of many retailers. While May will certainly be brighter than April, the health of the retail sector continues on a downward trajectory.”

The trend was made worse because many shoppers had already spent money on summerwear in March’s heatwave.

Supermarkets felt the pain despite the cold weather boosting sales of hot drinks, porridge, meat for stewing and soup.

However, there was a silver lining as sales of floor coverings and homewares, such as bedding, linen and lighting, received a boost as the depressing weather prompted people to give their homes a facelift.

The survey revealed that retailers continue to have to put on special offers and discounts to tempt consumers who are wary of spending amid rising unemployment and the UK’s economic malaise.

The wet weather hit sales of gardening products, such as lawnmowers, plants and tools, but indoor DIY was mixed as people looked to improve their homes, but continued to shy away from so-called ‘big ticket items’, such as fitted kitchens and bathrooms.

The situation for electronics items remained challenging despite TV sales gaining a boost from the digital switchover and strong demand for the new iPad and the Kindle.

Sales of toiletries and cosmetics were lower than a year ago, as the boost from cough and cold medicines failed to offset the decline in hay fever remedies and suncreams.