Clothing retailers suffered their worst sales performance in nearly four years in April, official figures showed today, as heavy rain dampened demand for a new summer wardrobe.
Clothing sales volumes plunged 5.2% month on month in April, the lowest level since June 2008, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, as retailers failed to shift summer clothing stocked up in unseasonably warm March.
Total retail sales volumes plunged by a worse-than-expected 2.3% on the month, the lowest level in nearly two-and-a-half years, although this was distorted by a record plunge in petrol and diesel sales following the threat of a fuel tanker strike the previous month.
Stripping out the impact of fuel sales, total retail sales volumes were down 1%, the worst performance excluding fuel in a nearly a year, the ONS said.
A survey from the British Retail Consortium showed that Britain's high streets witnessed the worst decline in shopper numbers since November 2009 in the wettest April since records began in 1910.
The number of shoppers in town centres, where more than one in 10 premises lie empty, fell 12.6% last month compared with April 2011.
The inclement weather triggered a 1.7% drop at non-food stores, the ONS said, while food stores saw a 0.6% decline.
The bad weather also hit so-called other stores, a broad category including toy shops, garden centres and jewellers.
Retail sales volumes lifted 2% month on month in March, boosted by a 5.3% rise in fuel, as the threat of a tanker strike triggered panic-buying across the country.
As a result, consumers brought forward their fuel purchases from April, while the ONS said some filling stations were unable to sufficiently restock.
Non-store retailing volumes, which include internet sales, increased 1.4% on the month.
Consumers spent £25.9 billion in the four weeks of April, compared with £32.6 billion in the five weeks of March.
The average weekly amount spent online is now up 18% when compared with a year ago at £489 million.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "Looking through the factors weighing down on retail sales in April, it is evident that there are currently a lot of pressures on consumers as they face uncertain and worrying times, so they seem likely to be cautious overall in their spending over the next few months at least.
"This threatens to hold back overall economic activity given that consumer spending accounts for some 63% of GDP on the expenditure side of the economy."