Drop in spending masked by inflation, warns BRC

While sales growth has been slowing down since the beginning of the year, the real extent of the decline has been “masked by rising inflation”, warned the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

According to the trade association’s latest figures, total sales were down by 0.3 per cent last month against an increase of 51 per cent during the same period of 2021.

The organisation said that given sales figures are running at historically high levels, a small decline in sales masked a “much larger drop in volumes” once inflation is accounted for.

Last month, UK retail sales declined by 1.7 per cent compared to last year, when they had jumped by more than 39 per cent.

BRC chief exec Helen Dickinson said that the cost-of-living crisis has “crushed consumer confidence”, putting the breaks on consumer spending.

“Customers face a difficult year; with the Bank of England predicting inflation to reach more than 10 per cent,” said Dickinson. “Retailers are experiencing higher costs as a result of rising commodity prices, transport costs, labour shortages, delays at ports, and the war in Ukraine.

“Further headwinds are incoming, such as rising global food prices, which rose 13 per cent between March and April. Retailers will continue to do all they can to mitigate the effects of these costs rises, but unfortunately they cannot absorb them all.”

Across the three months to April, food sales decreased by 1.8 per cent. During the same period, while non-food retail sales increased by 1.8 per cent – this was still below the 12-month total average growth of 11 per cent. For the month of April, non-food was in decline year-on-year.

In-store sales of non-food items over the 12-week period grew by nearly 60 per cent, an improvement on the total 12-month average growth of 50 per cent. However, compared to pre-pandemic levels, during the three months to March, sales of this kind declined by 48 per cent.

Online sales

Digital non-food sales were down by nearly 14 per cent last month, compared to growth of 11.3 per cent last year.

The non-food online penetration rate decreased to 38 per cent in April from 45 per cent in April 2021. However, it was up 15 per cent on the almost 30 per cent seen at the same point in 2019.

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