Early Easter and bad weather contribute to drop in spring retail sales figures

Retail sales dropped 4% in April versus the previous year, dampened by a spell of wet weather and an early Easter bank holiday.

The year-on-year drop is set against a growth of 5.1% in April 2023, but was artificially worsened by the earlier timing of Easter, which previously pushed March sales unusually high, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Nonetheless, even when correcting for the seasonal distortion, the average growth for March and April together was only 0.2%, down on the three-month average of 0.5% and the 12-month average of 2.2%.

Analysts said that while consumers should have started feeling more confident to spend amid falling inflation and the prospect of interest rate cuts from the Bank of England, that had not yet come to fruition.

Food sales increased 4.4% year-on-year, against a growth of 9.8% in April 2023, while non-food sales decreased 2.8% for the same period.

Tech sales saw a slight boost as people sought out upgrades for computers, phones and other devices a few years after the pandemic-induced surge in activity in the sector.

Shop price inflation
Food sales rose in April, but not by as much as the previous year (Julien Behal/PA Wire)

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Dismal weather and disappointing sales led to a depressing start to spring for retailers, even accounting for the change in timing of Easter.

“Many retailers are hoping for brighter sales over the summer months as social events ramp up, and consumer confidence could improve with a potential cut in interest rates.”

Linda Ellett, UK Head of Consumer, Retail & Leisure, KPMG, said: “The positive sales figures seen in March due to an early Easter demonstrate the importance that triggers such as warmer weather, events and occasions can have in helping to deliver the necessary impact required to get consumers spending again.

“Retailers will be hoping that there might still be an early summer interest rate cut, a strong performance from England and Scotland in the Euros, and an uptick in temperatures.

“Together this might be the trigger to boost consumers’ willingness to spend in the weeks ahead.”

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