Retail sales for March slip on bad weather

Jacqui Jones from the Office for National Statistics says the cold weather affected sales of clothing and footwear

Retail sales in March were 0.7% lower than in February because of bad weather, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS also said retail sales volumes last month were 0.5% lower than a year earlier. The decline was in line with economists' expectations.

However, in value terms, retail sales were 0.1% higher.

Non-food sales plunged 4% in March, their largest monthly fall in more than three years.

But consumers turned to the internet in the cold weather, with "non-store" retailing seeing its biggest rise since March 2009.

"Feedback from department stores, clothing stores and household goods stores suggested that sales were dampened by the weather, as they prepared their stores for the spring season," the ONS said.

Analysts had broadly predicted the fall.

"It's obviously disappointing that it's down just under a percentage point on the month, but given that it jumped by 2% the previous month, it was always going to give back some of that prior strength," said Alan Clarke at Scotiabank.

Much of Britain's GDP is generated from consumer spending and analysts have said the retail sales figures will feed into the broader economic picture.

"I think we shouldn't get carried away and read too much gloom into this," said Brian Hilliard at Societe Generale,

"It will weaken [first-quarter] consumption numbers and that's again a disappointment which might lower people's expectations for Q1 GDP."

Meanwhile, business leaders called on the government to do more to help the High Street.

"Although it is possible that the UK economy may narrowly avoid entering a new recession, the weak economic climate means that the outlook for retailers is likely to remain challenging for some time," said John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

"Against this backdrop, we urge the government to do all it can to help support enterprise and wealth creation and open up new opportunities for UK firms to exploit both at home and abroad," he added.

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