UK retail sales continue to disappoint in April

Hopes in the high street of a bounce back from poor weather-affected trading have been dashed after the CBI reported another weak month of sales for retailers.

High street sales feel chill from ‘beast from the east’

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The employers’ organisation blamed the squeeze on consumer incomes and structural change in the sector for a fifth successive month of disappointing sales.

In its monthly distributive trades survey, the CBI said 31% of firms had reported sales growth over the year to April; 33% reported a fall. The balance of -2% points was much weaker than the +16% point rise anticipated when retailers were questioned last month.

The 100 retailers that took part in the survey were again upbeat about their trading prospects. A balance of +25% points said they expected business in May to be brisker than in the same month of 2017.

Recent official data has been in line with the gloomy findings from the CBI. Retail sales fell by 1.2% between February and March, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Anna Leach, head of economic intelligence at the CBI, said: “Sales have continued to disappoint in April, after falling in March. But expectations for next month are looking a little healthier.

“It’s no secret that UK high streets have endured tough trading conditions in recent months, with some big names closing or cutting back. Much of this reflects ongoing structural changes in the sector as well as the continued squeeze on households’ real incomes.

“While conditions have improved for households recently – with real wage growth inching into positive territory – we expect further gains in living standards to remain modest. So the pressure looks set to stay on retailers for the time being.”

The CBI said there had been falls in clothing, footwear and leather, and furniture and carpets – but these had been offset by sales growth among grocers, hardware and DIY, and recreational goods stores.

The CBI survey was conducted between 28 March and 13 April, before the mini heatwave that may have increased demand for summer clothes and shoes.