British retailers have warned that uncertainty caused by Brexit is holding consumers back from making bigger purchases, after a disappointing month for sales in March. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the accountancy firm KPMG said sales growth dropped to 0.5 per cent in the year to March, down from an annual growth of 2.3 per cent a year ago, as consumers held back from spending on big-ticket items.
The BRC said the timing of Easter, on April 21 this year after falling on April 1 in 2018, was likely to have distorted the sales figures, as many shops were yet to experience a rush in sales ahead of the holiday period. Chief executive of the BRC, Helen Dickinson said, "Retail sales slowed in March, even when the Easter distortions were accounted for, as greater uncertainty caused people to hold off from splashing out."
She added, "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."
Retailers have warned that a no-deal scenario could lead to shortages of goods in the shops and higher prices for households. Retail sales have, however, been stronger in recent months than expected, in a boon for the economy. Separate sales figures from Barclaycard, which processes almost half of credit and debit card transactions in Britain, suggest that sales rose by 3.1 per cent a year in March.
The BRC said that shoppers were cautious not to overspend in March amid the failure to break the deadlock in Westminster, with falling sales of bigger-ticket items such as furniture. Total food sales rose by 1.3 per cent in the three months to March, below the 12-month average of 2 per cent. The chief executive of grocery research firm IGD, Susan Barratt said the proportion of shoppers worried about the strength of the economy was relatively unchanged from a year ago.