March retail sales fell 1.7% on a like-for-like basis due to the timing of Easter, which falls later this year.
It is the second consecutive month that retail sales have fallen. Last month’s decline compares with a 1.9% rise in like-for-likes in March 2013, which included the Easter trading period.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) KPMG Retail Sales Monitor recorded a 0.3% fall in total sales against a 3.7% increase in March last year.
The three-month average jumped 2.1%, below the 2.4% 12-month average. The Monitor said the retail sales picture will be clearer after Easter.
Food like-for-like sales fell 2.7% on a three month average and 0.6% on a total basis. The Monitor said food and home were the categories most impacted by the Easter distortion.
KPMG head of retail David McCorquodale said: “Putting Easter distortions aside, the overall picture looks encouraging. This is a very different picture to last year when cold weather depressed sales and fashion retailers had a dismal month.
“There are, however, areas of concern. Food sales fell in like-for-like value again this month and the decision by some of the major grocers to go head to head in a billion pound price war will exacerbate this situation.”
Non-food like-for-like sales grew 3% in the three-month period and increased 4.2% on a total basis. Fashion posted record growth driven by a build up to Mother’s Day and weak comparables with last year. Figures showed people bought blouses, dresses and accessories from new collections, therefore buying at full-price and boosting retailers’ margins.
Footwear was the best performing category in March but furniture was the worst performer due to the timing of Easter.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “Fashion has performed particularly well. Retailers have worked hard to create popular new collections, and have been rewarded with strong demand for women’s clothing and footwear in particular.”
Online sales of non-food products surged 12.8% in March against last year when they advanced 6.2%.
McCorquodale said online sales were boosted because shoppers were not “distracted” by Easter. “These figures demonstrate that sometimes what hurts the high street helps online sales,” he said. He added that access to 4G technology is encouraging more shoppers to buy through their mobile devices and helping increase online sales.