By Marcus Leach

Bad weather accounted for a decline in UK retail sales in March, as official data revealed total sales were 0.7% lower than in February.

The Office for Statistics's (ONS) figures show that retail sales volumes were 0.5% lower than in March 2012. The decline was in line with economists' expectations.

However, in value terms, retail sales were 0.1% higher.Non-food sales plunged 4% in March, their largest monthly fall in more than three years.

But consumers turned to the internet in the cold weather, with "non-store" retailing seeing its biggest rise since March 2009.

"Feedback from department stores, clothing stores and household goods stores suggested that sales were dampened by the weather, as they prepared their stores for the spring season," the ONS said.

Peter Saville, partner at advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper, said that whilst the figures were disappointing, they were not altogether unexpected.

“The results are disappointing, but unsurprising. The prolonged cold weather has certainly taken its toll on the UK high street and has further discouraged consumer spending," he said.

We are now well into 2013 and many retailers, who have invested heavily in their online offerings and store experience, will be hoping their efforts will soon pay off. A rise in consumer confidence would be welcomed by retailers keen to turn around this stagnant trend.”

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