By Daniel Hunter
UK retail sales values were up 1.9% on a like-for-like basis from March 2012, when they had risen 1.3% on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were up 3.7%, against a 3.6% rise in March 2012.
Growth is inflated by the timing of Easter, which fell in March this year but in April last year. Unseasonable weather hindered fashion categories.
Adjusted for Shop Price Index inflation at 1.4% in March, total retail sales values grew 2.3% in real terms. Online sales were up 6.6% compared with March 2012, when they had risen by 13.9%.
Helen Dickinson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said: "This is a positive result, which rounds off a first quarter of cautious optimism for many retailers. Easter fell in March this year but April in 2012, which helps this year's figures, especially for items which tend to sell well over the long weekend like food and homewares. But even if we strip out the data for the last week of March, performances are encouraging, considering the weather impact.
"Snow and the prolonged cold were not ideal but not a disaster. They brought mixed fortunes for different categories. Food was boosted by a continued appetite for hearty meals and ‘wintry' fare such as roasts and chocolate. But demand was cool for new season clothing and footwear lines, resulting in a decline for both categories.
"2013 has got off to an encouraging start for the market as a whole. Retailers are now hoping for a boost in consumer confidence and the general mood to lift performance across all, not just some sectors, as we head into the second quarter. Getting a bit of sunshine, at long last, might help that along!"
David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG, said: "The early Easter this year certainly boosted the March sales figures and food and drink sales in particular soared as people stocked up to enjoy the long weekend. There was also a welcome rise in house-related spending over the Easter break.
"Easter distortions aside, the three-month average figures paint a positive picture and show the highest like-for-like sales increases since December 2009. On the back of strong January and February results, this may be the beginning of a positive trend and will be welcomed by many retailers.
"However, some sectors were hit by the wintry weather. Clothing and footwear retailers had a dismal month as the cold weather froze sales, leaving Summer skirts and sandals on the shelves. This year-on-year fall is made worse by the strong sales seen last March when a veritable heatwave drove sales of Spring stock. Clothing and footwear retailers will be desperate for a change in weather in April.
"With Easter falling early this year, the April sales comparatives will be negatively affected but it is hoped that the positive bounce of the first quarter of 2013 can continue to be felt across the country, buoyed by the opening of new shopping centres in cities such as Leeds."
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