High Street struggles in March

BDO High Street sales tracker finds March one per cent down but that DIY sales helped the home sector.

After a surge in January, retailers found February to be a more muted month. Although March started off with a surge in like-for-like sales, figures faltered as the month progressed leading to the moderate negative decline.

However, March ended on a more positive note than the same period last year.

The ongoing slump in fashion sales combined with the jarring movement of LFL sales in lifestyle and online has led to a month of surge and contraction.
A further point of note is the timing of Mother’s Day and Easter this year. Easter fell late in March this year, and some consumers may have been delaying purchases until the extended bank holiday weekend this week when they will have had more disposable time. Meanwhile, Mother’s Day helped retailers begin the month with strong sales.
According to official figures from the Office of National Statistics (released in March 2016),
clothing and shoe shop sales fell 3.4 per cent in February, which was the sixth consecutive month of
decline, and marked the longest run of falling sale s since October 1991. However, there was
a cheerier expectation among retailers in March, according to CBI figures, which found that
clothing sellers were optimistic about the spring sales. Unfortunately, to date, this optimism
has not translated to strong like-for-like sales for retailers.
Sales of lifestyle goods improved by +2.4 per cent in March continuing its trend of positive like-for-like
sales which started in January 2016. The category started the month with a bang, +13.54 in
week 10, due in large part to the early Mother’s Day and spring sales. However, like-for-like sales
plummeted to -8.63 per cent the following week. However, despite the drastic reduction, lifestyle
retailers ended the month on an upbeat note.

A March 2016 report by Nectar found that households were more likely to spend their spare cash than save it since the same time last year, but this was more likely to benefit restaurants and leisure providers than High Street shops. A quarter of respondents planned to rein in spending in the year ahead, with plans to spend less on clothing and accessories.
Homewares had the most positive month overall with strong weekly like-for-like sales in weeks 10,
12 and 13. Despite a sharp decline in week 11 (-7.9 per cent), homewares retailers saw positive
figures of +1.1 per cent as consumers took advantage of seasonal discounting and opted to splurge on
spring DIY and home improvement.
GCA chief executive Iain Wylie said garden centres were unlikely to see very positive results from March.

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