UK retail sales fell 1.7% on a like-for-like basis in March, as the later timing of Easter distorted figures, according to BRC-KPMG.
Food faced a very tough comparative in March due to Easter falling later than usual. As a result, the sector posted negative total growth. Adjusted for food inflation as measured by the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index, the three-month average change for food was -1.7% in March against -0.8% for the twelve-month average.
The Sales Monitor said comparing the underlying trend will be easier to compare next month when the three-month average accounts for seasonality and the Easter distortion is reversed. Discounters continued to gain market share from large supermarkets in the 12 weeks to the end of March, said Kantar.
Fashion performed strongly in March, with the mild weather encouraging customers to snap up new spring ranges. This was in contrast to March last year when cold temperatures led to the sector reporting its worst performance of the year.
Women’s clothing was the strongest performer, helped by a successful Mother’s Day and customers’ strong demand for new ranges, which sold at full price, helping retailers to restore margins.
Dresses, blouses, slippers and men’s shorts were cited as strong sellers. Women’s accessories, handbags and sunglasses also performed well. Men’s sport items didn’t sell so well.
Footwear was the best performing category in March, although this was against a weak comparative period last year.
Women’s footwear reported the strongest growth, closely followed by children’s. This was achieved without promotional events for most retailers, who only started their mid-season sales in April. Last year promotions across footwear ran in March due to the earlier timing of Easter.
Seasonal products such as flat shoes and pumps proved popular in March, with ballerinas and sandals reporting the strongest growth. Boots showed a decline. In the children’s segment, school shoes enjoyed good demand, as did canvasses and sandals.
Health & beauty ↑
March was a good month for the sector, helped by Mother’s Day falling in a pay-week this year. However, some retailers delayed their mid-season sales to April in the run-up to Easter, which means they faced negative comparisons with last year. Gifting products were particularly affected by that timing difference, which retailers hope will be offset in April. The Monitor said the later timing of some Easter-related promotions meant that the average transactional value was up.
Fragrance was cited as a key driver of growth last month. Weight management products continued their strong run, as did vitamins, while first-aid items benefited from more people being outdoors.
Furniture and flooring ↓
Furniture was the worst-performing category last month as it was badly affected by the comparison with Easter, which fell in March in 2013.
Home accessories ↓
All home categories were negatively impacted by the comparison with Easter last year, with home accessories particularly affected as it contains many gifting products targeted at the event.
Other non-food ↑
Other non-food was the slowest of the growing categories in March. If the Monitor excluded online, it would have experienced no growth.
In the electrical sector, sales of tablets seem to have stopped accelerating, slowing the whole computing segment and related accessories. The remaining segments, notably household appliances, managed to report satisfactory growth despite the absence of half-term in March this year. Heating was one of the worst performers due to the contrast in temperatures between last month and March last year. Video continued to fare better than Audio, which should be reinforced in the run-up to the World Cup.
The gaming segment had another burst of growth in March thanks to the release of Titanfall.
The later timing of half-term in 2014 played against the toy segment in March.
Due to the improved weather this spring, sellers of outdoor living products enjoyed a great start of the season, with customers snapping up garden furniture and barbecues. There was a strong increase in demand for plants and gardening products, such as lawn mowers.
Department stores enjoyed a good March, with improved temperatures prompting customers to visit.