UK: Clothing drives February retail sales surge
Like-for-like retail sales values rose 2.7% in February
Retail sales in the UK registered their strongest growth in three years during February, and clothing led the charge with its best figures in five months.
According to the BRC/KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, like-for-like retail sales values rose 2.7% in February, while total sales were up 4.4%.
Excluding the impact of the timing of Easter, the total sales increase (+4.5%) was the best since February 2010, while like-for-like sales growth was the fastest since December 2009.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said it was “reassuring” that January’s sales momentum had continued to grow, and singled out online clothing sales as a “stand-out performer”.
“The signs are that customers seized the chance to stock up on end-of-season promotions while also responding well to new ranges,” she added.
General clothing sales were driven by children’s wear, and jackets and casual wear in particular, the BRC said.
Men’s clothing was described as “challenging” after a good January – although jeans sold well – and women’s wear was mixed, with knitwear continuing to perform well, and dresses and floral prints among the highlights in spring/summer ranges.
However, footwear was the weakest performing category after showing strong growth throughout 2012.
“There are certainly highly welcome signs here of gradual improvement and customers feeling a bit more positive,” said Dickinson.
However, John Copestake, retail analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said the figures seemed “at odds with the prevailing atmosphere”, highlighting business failures and a profit warning from retailer Debenhams.
“Despite the boost in sales, it is too early to talk of ‘green shoots’,” he added.
“Sales growth this year will still be hit by weak confidence and austerity.”
Meanwhile, analysts Clive Black and Darren Shirley at Shore Capital said: “For the rag trade once senses that things could be worse: good spring weather and corresponding ranges may also lead to some decent trading updates.”
Debenhams and Primark were, they said, “at differing ends of the trading momentum spectrum”, while they still had “reservations” about the apparel performance of Marks & Spencer.
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