UK retail sales values rose 4.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis in the year to April 2009, and rose 6.3 per cent on a total basis, according to the Retail Sales Monitor from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG.
The analysts point out that comparisons are difficult because sales in April 2008 were very weak with cold wet weather after Easter fell in March. However, this year Easter and the warmer weather boosted both food and non-food sales. In non-food, clothing, footwear and outdoor leisure showed the best growth but big-ticket homewares and furniture sales remained difficult.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “The best sales growth for three years is good news but let’s be cautious. A sunny Easter that fell in April this year is the key reason why overall sales are up compared with last year when Easter was in March and miserable.
“Sales of garden goods, outdoor leisure, clothing and food did well but other non-food sectors missed out on the seasonal boost and the total spent on food rose less than food inflation, indicating the amount sold dropped.
“Following a tough winter, there’s some pent up demand but there’s no reason to think customers suddenly feel flush or eager to spend. With unemployment set to grow through the rest of the year, mounting jobs worries will hold back spending for some time. It would be great if the historically weak performance of the last twelve months was behind us, but we shouldn’t celebrate yet.”
And Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, adopted an equally cautious stance: “Although, on the face it, the results for April show a healthy year-on-year uplift, it would be dangerous to see the figures as a sure sign that consumer confidence has returned just yet,” she warned.
“The month in which Easter fell flatters this year’s figures somewhat. The good weather conditions and the timing of the school holidays, which has driven some particularly strong results for children’s clothing and footwear, also buoyed this month’s performance. What they do show is that consumers are remaining resilient to the prospects presented by a gloomy economic outlook and, for the moment at least, are not making a step change in reducing their spending.”