Bad weather hits UK retail sales

Retail sales across the UK fell between February and March this year because of bad weather, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported today.

The quantity bought in the retail sector decreased by 0.7% in March compared to the prior month, while the amount spent remained unchanged.

In comparison to the same period last year the quantity bought was down by 0.5%, broadly in line with economists’ expectations. This follows strong year-on-year growth of 2.5% in February 2013 and a year-on-year decrease in January of 0.6%. The amount spent increased by 0.1% between March 2012 and March 2013.

Over the whole of the first quarter, retail sales increased by 0.4% compared with the preceding three-month period.

With severe winter weather in much of the country, consumers embraced online shopping last month. The ONS reported that “non-store” retailing registered its biggest rise since March 2009.

In total, UK consumers spent an average of GBP601.4m online each week in March 2013. This represents an increase of 20.5% compared with March 2012.

Excluding automotive fuel, the amount spent online accounted for 10.4% of all retail spending.

Commenting on today’s figures, the British Retail Consortium’s director general, Helen Dickinson, said that the coldest March for 50 years had resulted in mixed fortunes for different retailers. While food sales were strong due to Easter celebrations and the cold weather, sales were sluggish for seasonal items like spring and summer fashion ranges.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, pointed to the “encouraging” growth in sales between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013 which he said reinforces the organisation’s hope for a small rise in GDP, with the services sector offsetting weaker areas of the economy such as manufacturing and construction.