The 1.5 per cent slide in April was the first time since 2005 that year-on-year comparable-store sales fell two months in a row, highlighting the extent to which consumers have cut spending.
Fashion and footwear sales were at their worst levels “for at least eight years”, the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor showed. Shoppers tended to shun discretionary buys to spend on essentials such as childrenswear. Furniture put in its worst performance in nearly three years.
Although food staged a revival after slowing in March, sales were still weaker than during the first two months of this year.
Total sales rose 1 per cent in April, but on a three-month basis like-for-likes were down 0.6 per cent.
Kaupthing analyst Matthew McEachran said: “Even heavy discounting often failed to tempt customers to buy. These numbers ought to weigh on some of the big stocks that have rallied in the past few weeks.”
Citi analyst Ben Spruntulis retained his forecast of a 2.5 per cent non-food like-for-like sales decline this year. “This assumes a fading trend through calendar 2008,” the broker cautioned.
Investec analyst David Jeary noted: “All sectors apart from food, toiletries and homewares were adversely affected by the drop in consumer confidence and stretched household budgets. Comparatives for the period have been especially tough against a sunny Easter last year.”
April sales data covers the period until the Saturday of the last bank holiday weekend, so any effect of subsequent good weather will show in May’s figures.
KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson warned: “It is doubtful that the fine weather will be sufficient to significantly boost consumer confidence in the current environment.”
BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “With economic fundamentals remaining weak, there seems no reason for these tough trading conditions to improve soon.”