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Retail sales volumes stagnate

Image © Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show retail stalled again in March, with sales volumes estimated to be flat at 0.0%.

Looking at the different categories, ONS found sales were mixed with fuel and non-food stores sales volumes rising by 3.2% and 0.5%, respectively. This was offset by falls in food stores and non-store retailers of 0.7% and 1.5%.

Heather Bovill, ONS senior statistician, explained: “Retail sales registered no growth in March. Hardware stores, furniture shops, petrol stations and clothing stores all reported a rise in sales. However, these gains were offset by falling food sales and in department stores where retailers say higher prices hit trading.”

Looking at the quarter, sales volumes increased by 1.9% in the three months to March 2024 when compared with the previous three months. This was following low sales volumes over the Christmas period for retailers.

This is the second consecutive month that retail sales volumes have remained flat, in February ONS also estimated that the quantity of products bought was at 0.0% this followed an increase of 3.6% in January.

Jacqui Baker, head of retail at RSM UK and chair of ICAEW’s Retail Group, said: “Unfortunately, the retail sector didn’t benefit much from Mothers’ Day or the early Easter, as consumers prioritised dining out with family and friends rather than gifting.

“With glimpses of warmer weather on the horizon, this led consumers to spruce up their homes and refresh their wardrobes as they start to switch out their knitwear for their pastels. In addition, with another National Insurance cut in April and the ongoing improvement of economic indicators, consumers should gradually have more confidence to spend.

“Retail sales were up 0.4% year-on-year in Q1, the first quarterly rise in two years. But competition between retailers remains tough as they battle to catch the eye of consumers, resulting in some early discounting to shift stock and boost cashflow. Cost pressures continue to hit the industry and March was a particularly sad month with a number of big high street names falling away. However, as confidence improves, we will hopefully see a boost to retail spending, which should offset some of the cost pressures that retailers are facing.”

Josh Graham, co-founder of Airtime Rewards, commented: “Retailers must pick themselves up and look ahead to the longer days, where shoppers can enjoy the high streets late into the evening sun. Following a downturn in inflation,  the dial is moving in the right direction for consumers to feel like they have more purchasing power.

“With this, retailers must continue to put in their best efforts in attracting and retaining their customer base. It is those who are capable of creating exceptional customer experiences that will emerge as champions in this shifting retail landscape.”

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