Clothing and footwear sales eported their worst declines in 18 months

Clothing and footwear sales eported their worst declines in 18 months

Increased promotional activity failed to offset the impact of unsettled weather and the early Easter holidays on UK clothing and footwear sales in March as they fell at their fastest pace since September 2014.

UK retail sales were flat during the five weeks to 2 April, compared with a 4.7% rise in the same month last year, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail/Online Sales Monitor. BRC said the headline figure is somewhat distorted by the earlier timing of Easter in 2016 and its impact on school holidays. 

On a like-for-like basis, sales edged down 0.7% from March 2015, when they had increased 3.2% from the preceding year. 

The clothing category reported its worst decline in 18 months, and was at the bottom of the growth rankings table, just above footwear. Retailers reported that the unsettled weather hampered demand for spring/summer ranges. Indeed, T-shirts and light jersey did not sell well, and women's lines suffered the most. 

BRC said the promotional activity was particularly intense and the discounts generally deeper than in the same month last year. 

Another factor weighing on the category's performance was the fact the Easter school holidays were more scattered this year than last year, having a further negative impact on sales of children's and women's wear. 

Footwear was last on the growth rankings table in March and also recorded its worst decline since September 2014. All segments saw a decrease, with women's faring the worst. 

"Despite the clock move bringing extra hours of daylight, there was no 'spring forward' for retail sales during March with growth broadly flat overall," said David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG. "Earlier Easters are not always good for the fashion industry as consumers are put off purchases of lighter fashions and footwear in cooler temperatures, and this was certainly the case this year. 

Online sales of non-food products grew 9.5% in March versus a year earlier, when they increased 12.3% over the previous year. 

Online clothing sales continued to grow, but at a significantly lower rate than the previous month, while online footwear sales reported their weakest growth since records began in 2012, falling to the bottom of the growth rankings table.