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Retail sales slip back 1 per cent as fashion stores weather April showers

The wettest April on record "washed away" sales of summer clothing and footwear, it emerged yesterday, leaving retailers hoping for a revival in their fortunes from the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games.

Chains selling big-ticket items continued to struggle and were forced into discounting to shift products, but sales at the leading grocers held up better, albeit boosted by strong demand for winter foods, such as joints of meat and soup, amid the seemingly incessant rain last month.

Despite the boost from high inflation and new shop openings, total retail sales fell by 1 per cent in April, while they tumbled by 3.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis, according to the latest British Retail Consortium-KPMG survey.

While retailers were up against strong underlying sales growth of 5.2 per cent in the same month last year, lifted by the timing of Easter in 2011 and the Royal Wedding, the BRC largely blamed the wet weather for the dire performane in April this year. Stephen Robertson, the director general of the BRC, said last night: "The wettest April since records began has put a dampener on retailers' fortunes. Consumer interest in summer fashions and outdoor products was washed away by constant downpours."

The tough month has reinforced the importance to chain stores of this summer's Jubilee, the European football championship and the London Olympics, which could all give a short-term boost to consumer spending.

Mr Robertson added: "Retailers are keeping everything crossed that a 2012 feel-good factor from this summer's events kicks in soon. Consumers, struggling to balance their household budgets, remain reluctant to spend unless they really have to and the weakening economy is likely to mean people are even more cautious about their finances."