Retailers feel chill following the Beast from the East

Retailers have suffered the chill of the Beast from the East as both high street and online shoppers halted spending to avoid disruption, figures show.

Year-on-year sales volumes declined for the first time since October 2017 in March, according to the CBI's latest survey of 109 firms for its monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

Almost a third of retailers (32%) said that sales volumes were up in the year to March, while 40% said they were down, giving a balance of minus 8%.

Just 8% of retailers said the volume of sales was good for the time of year, with 35% saying they were poor, giving a balance of minus 27%, the lowest figure since April 2013.

Looking ahead to next month, retailers expect sales volumes and orders placed with suppliers to grow, though at a fairly subdued pace.

Growth in online retail sales also slowed sharply in the year to March, with sales rising at the weakest pace since 2009, as shoppers avoided the potential for disrupted deliveries.

Wholesalers and motor traders also reported noticeable slowdowns in sales growth in the year to March.

CBI principal economist Ben Jones said: "Against a backdrop of stagnating household incomes and weak consumer confidence, the lengthy cold snap earlier this month has heaped added pressure on retailers.

"Freezing conditions and transport disruption caused people to avoid the High Street. With many forced to work from home, telecoms firms saw record internet traffic, yet online shopping slowed sharply given the potential for disrupted deliveries.

"As winter finally loses its grip, retailers expect a recovery in sales growth in April, albeit a fairly tepid one.

"While the latest wage and price data point to the first green shoots of a recovery in real household incomes, any gains are likely to be modest, with conditions for retailers likely to remain challenging for some time yet."

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