UK fashion stores feel the chill during a harsh winter

The harsh winter which saw snow fall in April led to a sales slump at fashion stores. The unseasonably near-Arctic weather hit the footwear sector hardest, according to the latest Retail Sales Monitor published today by the British Retail Consortium (BRT) and KPMG.

While sales of slippers and wellies held up well in March, sandals failed to fly off the shelves. By comparison, the sunny spell experienced in March 2012 saw sandal sales soaring, sending the footwear sector to the top of the sales charts. Clothing was the only other sector to post a year-on-year fall.

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said: "Clothing and footwear retailers had a dismal month in March as the cold weather froze sales, leaving summer skirts and sandals on the shelves."

Today's figures reinforce yesterday's survey from the accountancy firm BDO which revealed that underlying fashion sales tumbled by 3.4 per cent last month.

However, the figures recorded for other retail sectors were boosted by the early timing of Easter in 2013. "Easter fell in March this year but in April 2012, which helps this year's figures," said Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRT.

"But even if we strip out the data for the last week of March [when Easter fell] performances are encouraging considering the weather impact," she said.

UK retail sales values were up 1.9 per cent on a like-for-like basis over the year. Adjusted for shop-price inflation of 1.4 per cent in March, total retail sales values grew 2.3 per cent in real terms, according to the Monitor.

However, the good overall picture wasn't reflected online, said Ms Dickinson. "Online sales growth was the slowest since August, when the Olympics left many of us 'otherwise engaged' with little interest in shopping," she pointed out.

Meanwhile, the food and drinks sectors were boosted by the lead-up to Easter and Mother's Day, given them their top two sales weeks of the year so far.

The bad news for the fashion sector is set to continue later this week when the retail bellwether Marks & Spencer is expected to report a 4.5 per cent slump in underlying fashion and homewares sales on Thursday.

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