Covering the four weeks 24th February - 30th March 2019

The March figures are negatively distorted by the timing of the run-up to Easter, which is in April this year compared to March in the previous year. One way of correcting for this distortion is to look at the 2-year average, since the Easter effect was reversed last year, boosting the sales growth in March 2018.

  • On a total basis, sales decreased by 0.5% in March, against an increase of 2.3% in March 2018. This was below both the 3-month and 12-month average increases of 0.6% and 0.9% respectively. The 2-year average growth was 0.9% per annum, a slowdown from February’s equivalent of 1.1%.
  • In March, UK retail sales decreased by 1.1% on a Like-for-like basis from March 2018, when they had increased 1.4% from the preceding year. The 2-year average Like-for-like growth was 0.1% per annum, a slowdown from February’s 0.3%.
  • Over the three months to March, In-store sales of Non-Food items declined 1.5% on a Total basis and 1.7% on a Like-for-like basis. This is above the 12-month Total average decline of 2.1%. Online, the 3-month and 12-month average growths were 4.5% and 6.4% respectively.
  • Over the three months to March, Food sales increased 0.2% on a Like-for-like basis and 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 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 3.0% in March, against a growth of 7.9% in March 2018. The 2-year average growth was 5.4% per annum, a slowdown from February’s 5.9%. 
  • Online penetration rate increased from 28.5% in March 2018 to 29.9% last month.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive | British Retail Consortium
“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.”

Sue Richardson, Retail Director UK | KPMG
“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.”

Susan Barratt, CEO | Food & Drink sector performance | IGD
“The lateness of Easter in 2019 is the main factor behind the year-on-year fall in food and grocery sales for March. The underlying trend has been generally flat, indicating there has not been astock building by households. high level of

“Although 62 per cent of shoppers are worried about the economy this is the same number as in summer last year. For the great majority, it has been food shopping as usual.”