The ongoing uncertainty around the future of Britain’s relationship with the European Union has negatively affected retail sales for March, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.
Like-for-like sales fell by 1.1% in March compared to the same period in 2018, when they had registered a 1.4% uplift year on year.
Total retail sales for the month fell by 0.5%, against an increase of 2.3% in March 2018. This figure was below both the three-month and 12-month average increases of 0.6% and 0.9% respectively.
The March figures were distorted somewhat by the timing of the run-up to Easter, which has been in April this year, compared to March 2018.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Retail sales slowed in March, even when the Easter distortions were accounted for, as greater uncertainty caused people to hold off from splashing out. While jewellery, beauty products and clothing purchases were all up to indulge on Mother’s Day, shoppers were generally cautious not to overspend, particularly on larger items.
“Brexit continues to feed the uncertainty among consumers. For the sake of everyone, MPs must rally behind a plan of action that avoids no deal – and quickly – or it will be ordinary families who suffer as a result of higher prices and less choice on the shelves.”
Over the last three months to March, in-store sales of non-food items declined 1.5% on a total basis, and 1.7% on a like-for-like basis.
In the same period food sales increased 0.2% on a like-for-like basis and 1.3% on a total basis.
Online sales of non-food products grew 3% in March, down compared to the 7.9% uptick for the same period last year.
UK retail director at KPMG Sue Richardson said: “March marked a truly disappointing end to the first quarter of 2019 for retailers. Not only did total sales fall 0.5% compared to the same month last year, but no further clarity around Brexit came to light, and shoppers continue to waiver.
“Retailers will be hoping for an end to this sustained uncertainty – it’s clearly not good for business – but times have already well and truly changed, and agility remains the best form of defence.”