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Online retail sales grow in April, but overall retail falls ‘below expectation’

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Online continues to slowly grow – but is it at the expense of the High Street?
Online continues to slowly grow – but is it at the expense of the High Street?
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Online sales are up, but overall retail sales in April aren't as good as hoped – despite a hot, late Easter

Online sales penetration may have increased from 28.0% in April 2018 to 29.7% last month, but a late Easter is distorting otherwise good looking retail sales figures, according to the latest BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor for April 2019.

 

On a total basis, retail sales increased by 4.1% in April, against a decrease of 3.1% in April 2018. This was above both the three-month and 12-month average increases of 1.2% and 1.4% respectively. However, due to the positive distortion from Easter, if a two-year average is applied – since the Easter effect was reversed last year by being early – figures paint a more bleak picture.

 

The two-year average growth was 0.4% per annum, a slowdown from March’s equivalent of 0.9%.

 

In April, UK retail sales increased by 3.7% on a like-for-like basis from April 2018, when they had decreased 4.2% from the preceding year. The two-year average Like-for-like change was -0.3% per annum, a slowdown from March’s 0.1% and February’s 0.3%.

 

Over the three months to April, in-store sales of non-food items declined 1.7% on a total basis and 1.8% on a like-for-like basis. This is in line with the 12-month total average decline of 1.8%. Online, the 3-month and 12-month average growths were 4.1% and 6.2% respectively.

 

Similarly, in the three months to April, food sales increased by 1.7% on a like-for-like basis and 2.8% on a total basis. This is below the 12-month total average growth of 3.0%.

 

In the same period, non-food retail sales in the UK decreased by 0.2% on a like-for-like basis and by 0.1% on a total basis. This is below the 12-month total average increase of 0.2%. This is the first time the long-term Non-Food trend turned positive since October 2017.

 

Online sales of non-food products grew 4.3% in April, against a growth of 6.7% in April 2018. The 2-year average growth, was 5.5% per annum, in line with March’s 5.4% but below the 12-month average of 6.2%.

 

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive, British Retail Consortium, says: “Retail sales were below expectation this month as the sunshine over the Easter weekend persuaded many to pursue recreational, rather than retail, activities. Department stores, as well as clothing and footwear shops, were harder hit by the warmer weather, while food-to-go fared much better from it.”

 

She continues: “Online accounted for a little under 30 per cent of all non-food sales, and we expect this proportion to continue to rise. Nonetheless, the pace of growth has slowed over the course of the year despite the investment that many stores have made in their digital offering.”

 

Dickinson concludes: “Retailers are continuing to invest in technology across both physical and online activities as they seek to meet changing consumer behaviours, however some of such spending is being held back by the plethora of Government-imposed business costs bearing down on the industry. Government should review these costs – and in particular reduce the burden of Business Rates – if they wish to see retail maintain its place as the main provider of highly valued, flexible jobs in communities up and down the country.”

 

Paul Martin, Partner, UK Head of Retail, KPM, adds: “Retailers reaped the rewards of Easter and more favourable weather in April, with like for like sale up 3.7 per cent year-on-year. However, we must remain mindful of the distortion caused by Easter’s timing. Looking at sub-categories, food retailers were clear winners as families came together for festive feasts and even braved their first picnic or barbecue of the year. The long weekend also helped children’s toys and furniture sales, as parents looked to keep youngsters entertained as they returned to home and garden improvements.”

 

Martin adds: “April may have eased the strain on retailers somewhat, but we can’t overlook the fact that the new tax year also presents retailers with additional costs ranging from increased minimum wages to additional pension contributions. The task of balancing sales and a profitable margin remains crucial, especially given the widespread promotional activity currently.”

 

Susan Barratt, CEO, Food & Drink sector performance at IGD says: “Outstanding Easter weather helped to deliver a good month for food and grocery sales. Combining March and April, to iron out the shifting date of Easter, reveals 2.1 per cent sales growth compared with the same time last year, 3.2 per cent when including Food-to-go. The sales mix at Easter is evolving rapidly with 28 per cent of shoppers now seeking healthier alternatives to regular chocolate eggs, and for the main celebratory meal, chicken is now more popular than lamb amongst younger shoppers whereas 22 per cent of under 24s planned to serve at least one vegetarian or vegan course.”

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