The late Easter didn’t help retail sales in March, the BRC has said

Retailers will be hoping the late Easter delivers a much-needed boost in April, after like-for-like retail sales dipped 1.7% in March.

Total sales fell by 0.3% in March, the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor revealed today.

Between January and March, like-for-like sales grew by just 0.5%, while food sales were down 2.7%.

Non-food sales climbed 3% in the three-month period, buoyed by strong footwear, clothing and health & beauty sales driven by the mild winter weather.

“These sales figures are stronger than might have been expected given the fact that Easter has fallen so late this year,” said BRC director general Helen Dickinson. “Fashion has performed particularly well. Retailers have worked hard to create popular new collections, and have been rewarded with strong demand for women’s clothing and footwear in particular.”

Stripping out the distortion caused by Easter – which fell on 31 March last year – the overall picture was “encouraging”, according to David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG. “There are, however, areas of concern. Food sales fell in like-for-like value again this month and the decision by some of the major grocers to go head to head in a billion-pound price war will exacerbate this situation. 

“Investors and analysts will be keeping a keen eye on the sector as they wait to see how these discounts will impact profits and performance, but the winner in this case will be the consumer.”

IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch said: “There is no evidence yet that mainstream food retailers have benefited from the economic upturn.” However, she added that ShopperVista research suggested 43% of shoppers were planning to prepare a special meal over Easter, against 38% last year, indicating there were “hopeful signs” for Easter food sales.

Adjusted for food inflation as measured by the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index, the three-month average change for food was -1.7% in March against -0.8% for the last 12 months, the BRC added.

Food price inflation hit its lowest level in eight years in March, the BRC reported last week, growing by just 0.8% year-on-year.

And this morning, the Office for National Statistics reported the UK inflation rate fell to 1.6% last month, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index.