Beast from the East sees retail sales record biggest quarterly fall in a year
British retail sales have recorded their biggest quarterly fall in a year as the Beast from the East kept shoppers at home, figures show.
Sales fell by 1.2% in March, sucked down by a 7.4% drop in petrol sales as the adverse weather conditions hit travel, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Sales were down 0.5% for the first quarter as a whole compared with the last three months of 2017, their biggest quarterly fall since the first quarter of 2017, with declines in all sectors except for department stores and non-store retailing.
The impact of the bad weather follows February's 0.8% increase in sales as prices rose at their smallest year-on-year rate since January last year.
Department stores were the only sector to show positive growth in March at 0.8%, with feedback from retailers suggesting that online offers for Mothering Sunday and Easter boosted internet sales more than usual during the adverse weather.
The quantity bought in supermarket stores fell in March as specialist food stores saw strong growth, possibly due to them providing easier access to consumers during the snow, the ONS said.
ONS senior statistician Rhian Murphy said: "Retail sales fell in the first quarter due to a large decline in March, with petrol sales seeing a significant slump as a result of the poor weather keeping many shoppers indoors.
"However, the snow actually helped boost online spending, with department stores in particular seeing growth in their web sales.
"Various shops also reported increased spending on gifts in the run-up to Easter and Mother's Day, which also helped boost online sales."
Ian Gilmartin, head of retail and wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking, said: "We've got a tendency in the retail sector to be slightly obsessed with the weather, but when looking back at March's performance it's with good reason.
"It's simple - if people can't get around, as shown by the drop in fuel sales, then they can't go shopping, with lower footfall hitting the overall sales figures.
"That said, it is reassuring to see online stepping up and managing to take some of the strain, and worth noting the heroic efforts of many retailers and distributors to fulfil online orders despite the difficulty in moving goods around the country."
Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said: "With snow and rain right through March, including in the critical run-up to Easter, it's no surprise that shoppers avoided the high street. So, while online retailers benefited to some extent, last month's retail sales were particularly disappointing.
"Footfall was significantly impacted by the weather, and the first of retailers' spring/summer fashion and home product ranges would have been of little consolation to shoppers looking to stay warm.
"But it's not all doom and gloom. This week, we've already seen evidence of wages growing in real terms as inflation has eased.
"Moreover, our most recent survey shows that consumer sentiment is recovering and is higher than it was both in December and this time last year."