UK retail sales dip as consumers shun high street

LONDON (AFP): British retail sales sank heavily in March, official data showed Friday, as consumers shunned the high street in the face of poor weather and a cost-of-living crisis.

Sales by volume decreased 0.9 percent last month, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement.

That was worse than expectations of a 0.5-percent decline, and followed a gain of 1.1 percent in February on strong buying at discount stores.

Food sales were hit particularly hard by rampant inflation last month.

“Retailers have been quick to point out that this (sales drop in March) was driven by poor weather conditions which discouraged spending in physical locations, but the broader issue runs much deeper than that,” said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Sophie Lund-Yates.

“Households were turning away from these shops before the economy weakened, and it’s now even more difficult to encourage them to part with their dwindling cash.”

Britain’s annual inflation rate slowed last month but held above 10 percent on soaring food prices, separate ONS data showed Wednesday.

That further fuelled a cost-of-living crunch — and sparked talk that the Bank of England will hike interest rates again at its next meeting in May.

Higher borrowing costs have exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis, ramping up loans for businesses and consumers and denting economic activity.

The BoE has hiked rates 11 times since late 2021 in an unsuccessful bid to keep inflation close to a two percent target.