Retail sales volumes fell in the year to March, compounding a subdued start to 2019, according to the latest monthly CBI Distributive Trades Survey.
The survey of 105 firms, of which 50 were retailers, showed retail sales volumes fell sharply (-18%), the fastest contraction in 17 months and marking a four-month run in which sales have not grown. This disappointed retailers’ expectations for strong growth in March, but sales volumes are expected to rise again in April (+15%).
Orders placed on suppliers also fell in the year to March (-13% from +7% in February), but are expected to return to modest growth in April (+6%).
It is possible that year-on-year sales growth in March has been distorted by the later timing of Easter this year. Indeed, sales volumes actually rose further above average for the time of year (+13% from +4% in February) and are expected to remain above seasonal norms in April (+12%).
Year-on-year growth in internet sales slowed in March (+21%) to the lowest rate in 12 months. Growth is expected to pick up in the year to April (+31%).
Wholesalers reported the slowest pace of annual growth in sales volumes in nine months (+13%) and are expecting a further slowing next month (+6%). Motor traders also reported their fastest fall in sales volumes for 11 months (-16%). Sales for the time of year were seen as the poorest since November 2014 (-11%), and are expected to fall further below seasonal norms in April (-36%).
Across the broader economy, underlying conditions remain subdued, particularly as Brexit uncertainty and slower global growth continue to hold back momentum.
Anna Leach, CBI head of economic intelligence, said:
“Even accounting for Easter timing, the High Street’s poor run continues. While real wage growth is picking up, consumer confidence has been hit by escalating uncertainty over Brexit and concern over the economy’s future.
“The pain currently being felt on the High Street is yet another reason why it is so vitally important politicians agree a deal in Parliament that is acceptable to the EU and protects our economy. No-deal must be averted at all costs.”
- 28% of respondents reported that sales volumes were up on a year ago in March, while 46% said they were down, giving a balance of -18%
- Retailers expect sales volumes to pick up next month (+15%), with 25% expecting a rise and 10% expecting a fall
- Sales for the time of year improved in March, with a balance of +13%, up from +4% in February
- The volume of orders placed on suppliers fell in the year to March, with a balance of -13%, down from +7% in the year to February. Orders are expected to improve in April (+6%)
- Year-on-year growth in internet sales volumes slowed in March (+21%) representing the slowest growth rate for 12 months. A pick-up in growth is expected in April (+31%)
- Retail sales fell in five sub-sectors, with volumes in the grocers’ sector staying broadly flat (-3%), following strong growth in the year to February (+45%). Among the biggest negative contributors to the headline figure, this month included recreational goods (-67%), hardware & DIY (-62%) and other normal goods (-42%)
- 43% of wholesalers reported sales volumes to be up on last year and 30% said they were down, giving a balance of +13%
- 10% of motor traders reported sales volumes to be up on last year and 26% said they were down, giving a balance of -16%