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UK Retail Sales Come In From The Cold With a 1.6% Rise In April

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Retailers enjoyed the biggest jump in sales in 18 months during April as shoppers, forced to stay home by the bitter weather in March, returned to the high street.

Fashion clothing, food and petrol sales bounced back to push sales volumes up 1.6% in April on the previous month as the “beast from the east” receded and the sun came out.

However the Office for National Statistics, which compiled the figures, warned that sales growth remained subdued “with the volume of goods sold over the last six months broadly unchanged”.

A spokesman said: “Over the longer-term retail sales growth has slowed considerably, with increases in food, household goods and internet retailers being largely offset by declines across all other types of retailing.”

A number of retails are struggling, with Marks & Spencer saying earlier this week it would be closing 100 stores by 2022.

Department stores were among the biggest losers in April, though this reflected their resilience in March when their internet operations profited from the cold snap.

Sales fell 1.2% in March from February, with petrol sales down 7.4% after large parts of the UK were brought to a standstill by heavy snow and transport delays.

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On Thursday, Kingfisher, the owner of the B&Q, reported that its flagship DIY chain had seen a 9% drop in sales in the three months to 30 April. It blamed 6% of the fall on the effects of the snow, which hit sales of outdoor products and forced it to close stores.

Kingfisher chief executive Véronique Laury described UK market conditions as uncertain with trade at B&Q affected by “soft demand” and a lower number of shoppers out and about. She said the start to the year had been “challenging” as a result of “exceptionally harsh weather”.

Andrew Westbrook, head of retail at accountancy firm RSM, said: “Retail sales were slightly better than expected in April giving operators a chance to partially recover from the poor weather in March.

“The amount spent by shoppers increased by 3.5% when compared with the same month last year. However, while these numbers are encouraging, there is still a Darwinian struggle taking place on the UK high street.

Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY Item Club, said there were good reasons to remain downbeat about the prospects for retailers. He said: “With inflation moderating and regular earnings growth firming gradually the squeeze on consumers has eased. Nevertheless, consumers are still under significant pressure and it looks unrealistic to expect a marked upturn in consumer spending any time soon.”

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