Non-food retail sales suffered their first quarterly decline for more than five years amid a “challenging” period of trading.
According to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, non-food sales in the UK fell 0.4% on a like-for-like basis and 0.2% on a total basis during the three months ending February 25.
The drop marked the first quarterly slump in sales since November 2011.
“The persistent weak sales performance of several non-food categories points to an undeniable trend of cautious spending on non-essential items”
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson
Grocery sales climbed during the same three-month period, registering a 0.6% uplift in like-for-likes and a 2% spike in total sales.
In the four weeks to February 25 alone, UK retail sales increased 0.4% on a like-for-like basis year-on-year. Total sales also rose 0.4% compared to February 2016.
By contrast, online sales surged as consumers continued to shift away from bricks and mortar to ecommerce.
Online sales of non-food products jumped 7.7% during the three months to February 25, contributing 2.3 percentage points to the year-on-year growth of total non-food sales.
In-store sales made a negative contribution of 2.5 percentage points to non-food sales across the quarter.
Over the three months to February, total in-store sales fell 2.4% on a total basis and 2.6% on a like-for-like basis as digital continued to gain traction.
In February, online sales accounted for 22.2% of all non-food purchases made in the UK, up from 21% in February 2016.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said overall sales growth was “subdued” in February, but insisted there was “some negative distortion” due to the later timing of Mother’s Day this year, which impacted categories such as accessories and health and beauty.
Dickinson added: “But looking beyond this distortion, the persistent weak sales performance of several non-food categories points to an undeniable trend of cautious spending on non-essential items.”
KPMG head of retail Paul Martin described February as “yet another challenging month”, and claimed consumer confidence was “showing signs of deteriorating.”
He added: “Retailers will be paying close attention to the upcoming Spring Budget in the hope of seeing some measures to ease the pressure being placed on margins.
“For some bricks and mortar retailers, a hike in business rates may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”