UK clothing and footwear sales slowed in April after being hit by the earlier timing of Easter this year and pre-election worries, according to new figures released today (11 May).

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said UK total retail sales values fell 0.2% in April when compared with the same month last year, and were down 2.3% on a like-for-like basis.

The April trading period included the last two days of Easter, whereas last year’s had the entire build-up and holiday weekend.

This meant sales growth slipped because people had already done their Easter spending in the previous month.
While slower growth in April was largely expected, consumer confidence was dented by media coverage of the election and debates over economic management.

Easter distortions can be ironed out by taking a three-month average, which shows total sales up 3.8% this year compared with 2.2% in the same three months in 2009.

“There’s no question customers are more willing to spend than 12 months ago but still nervous,” said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.

“People need to know how a new Government’s moves to tackle the deficit will affect their incomes and jobs. Even if the measures are tough, knowing what they are could be better than the current uncertainty.”

Non-food non-store sales – which include internet, mail-order and phone sales – in April were 15.9% higher than a year ago.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, adds that the consumer’s “general malaise” is likely to remain given the uncertain political and economic environment.

But she noted spring weather in early April led to a pick-up in women’s clothing and footwear sales after a challenging March.

“Retailers are working hard to manage their costs and stay competitive while demand remains so volatile,” she said.

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