Retail sales fall in March due to timing of Easter

March retail figures were negatively impacted due to the timing of Easter this year, said the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

March retail figures were negatively impacted due to the timing of Easter this year, said the British Retail Consortium (BRC). Last year, Easter fell in March, compared to it falling in April this year.  

This is most likely to mean that recyclers will see a decrease in the quantity of material available for recycling. 


On a total basis, sales decreased by 0.5% in March, against an increase of 2.3% in March 2018. This is below both the 3-month and 12-month average increases of 0.6% and 0.9% respectively. 

In March, UK retail sales decreased by 1.1.% on a like-for-like basis from March 2018, when they had increased by 1.4% in the previous year. The two-year average like-for-like growth was 0.1% per year, a slowdown from February’s 0.3%.  

Over the three months to March, in-store sales of non-food items fell by 1.5% on a total basis, and 1.7% on a like-for-like basis. This is higher that the 12-month total average decline of 2.1%. For online sales, the 3-month and 12-month average growths were 4.5%, and 6.4%, respectively.  

During the same period, food sales increased by 0.2% on a like-for-like basis and by 1.3% on a total basis. This is below the 12-month total average growth of 2.0%.  

Over the three-months to March, non-food retail sales in the UK were flat on a like-for-like basis and increased by 0.1% on a total basis. This is broadly in line with the 12-month total average of 0.0%. 

Online sales of non-food products grew by 3.0% in March, against an increase of 7.9% in March 2018. The 2-year average growth was 5.4% per annum, a fall from February’s 5.9%. 

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Retail sales slowed in March, even when the Easter distortions were accounted for, as greater uncertainty caused people to hold off from splashing out. While jewellery, beauty products and clothing purchases were all up to indulge on Mother’s Day, shoppers were generally cautious not to overspend, particularly on larger items.  

“Brexit continues to feed the uncertainty among consumers. For the sake of everyone, MPs must rally behind a plan of action that avoids no deal – and quickly – or it will be ordinary families who suffer as a result of higher prices and less choice on the shelves.” 

KPMG retail director UK Sue Richardson said: “March marked a truly disappointing end to the first quarter of 2019 for retailers. Not only did total sales fall 0.5 per cent compared to the same month last year, but no further clarity around Brexit came to light, and shoppers continue to waiver. Not all categories or channels suffered the same fate though, with clothing generally bagging a welcome reprieve thanks to more favourable weather – especially when compared to the Beast from the East this time last year.” 

“However other categories, mainly big-ticket items including furniture, remained overlooked. Online sales may have performed better than the high street, but the high proportion of sales occurring online actually nods towards the underlying issue of profit pressure. Retailers will be hoping for an end to this sustained uncertainty – it’s clearly not good for business – but times have already well and truly changed, and agility remains the best form of defence.” 

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