Consumers ignore Brexit woes to send retail sales surging – ONS

Consumers have continued to ignore concerns about Brexit to send retail sales surging in March, official figures show.

Sales were up 1.1% on February, well above expectations of a fall of 0.3%, driven by food and non-store retailing, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

However all retailers except department stores and household goods stores saw an increase in sales in the three months to March 2019 compared with the previous quarter.

Department stores were the only store type to suffer a decrease in sales – of 0.3% – when compared with last March.

Year-on-year growth in the quantity bought increased by 6.7% in March, the highest since October 2016, with a range of stores noting that the milder weather this year helped boost sales in comparison with the Beast from the East affecting shopper behaviour at the same time last year.

Figures for the first three months of the year, which smooths out monthly volatility, show sales grew by 1.6% compared with the previous quarter, following sustained growth throughout the first three months of the year and the strongest increase since August 2018.

Ed Monk, associate director for personal investing at Fidelity International, said: “The week’s economic releases have ended with good news. Even accounting for the Beast from the East, which kept shoppers at home a year ago, today’s retail sales data show households willing to spend more.

“That reflects a slow recovery from a decade-long wage squeeze and, perhaps, a willingness to look through the apparently never-ending uncertainty that is Brexit.

“Higher retail sales contribute to a picture of the economy beginning to show more positive signs. Growth is low, but falls in inflation appear over and real wages are rising, suggesting a little more steam in the economy.”

Philipp Gutzwiller, head of retail at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “The third consecutive month of increasing sales is exactly what retailers need as they head from a mixed Christmas sales period into an important Easter one.

“With consumers keeping a closer eye on the value of the money at their disposal, those who succeed in the coming months will be those willing to identify new ways to create worthwhile customer experiences or reward loyalty, and put that at the heart of the strategy they invest in.”