Retailers report unexpected high in March

Retailers recorded an unexpected rise in sales in March, driven by non-food sales, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

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The figures are at odds with the fall in total sales reported by the British Retail Consortium earlier this week, which it claimed were the worst in 16 years.

The ONS figures show a 1.3% increase in the volume of sales in March and a 4.5% increase in value sales, compared with March last year.

Retailers reported a 0.2% month on month increase in sales volumes following a 0.9% fall in February.

Non-food sales were up 8.2% driven by electricals and telecoms stores and garden centres.

Homewear and DIY stores suffered the most during the period reporting a 7.7% fall in sales. DIY retailers will be hoping that the bumper bank holidays will boost sales in April.

Non-store sales, which include online shopping, increased 13.1%.

Responding to the ONS figures, Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC says: “This is a more positive picture than from our own figures which showed the value of total sales below a year earlier. Even so, the ONS figures confirm a worrying downward trend for retail sales. April’s figures will be helped by Easter and the Royal Wedding. That’s welcome but won’t change the fundamentally weak conditions likely to undermine consumer confidence for some time yet.”

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