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Rain hits retail sales in Great Britain as shoppers reduce spending

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A month of unrelenting rain in many parts of the country resulted in British shoppers spending much less than expected in April, with fewer treating themselves to clothes and big-ticket items.

The Office for National Statistics blamed the wet weather for the 2.3% decrease in the amount of goods bought, compared with March, which was much steeper than the 0.4% decline forecast by analysts.

Furniture, clothing, sports equipment, and games and toy shops experienced the biggest monthly sales drops, with non-food store sales falling 4.1%, the joint largest drop since January 2021. Retailers blamed low footfall amid bad weather, the high cost of living despite a decline in the annual pace of inflation to 2.3%, and high fuel prices.

Petrol sales dropped at their fastest rate since October 2021, while food stores sales volumes fell for the third month in a row.

There were only two bright spots in the data: online sales, which rose 1.1% in April, compared with March, and a 0.4% uplift in department store sales.

Danni Hewson, the head of financial analysis at AJ Bell, said people had got used to making do without. The shock of the last few years on personal finances has made many wary,” she said.

“It didn’t help that Easter came early and all those tasty chocolate eggs and family feasts were totted up in the previous month’s numbers, but even then, March’s flat lining sales were revised down.”

The figures will be discouraging to the government during an election campaign, but they do not signal a true downturn, according to analysts at Capital Economics. “The weakness in April was probably a one-off,” said Ashley Webb, a UK economist.

Webb said retail sales could bounce back by 3% in May, given that consumer confidence was improving. GfK’s consumer confidence index rose by two points in May to -17, the highest level since December 2021, as people began to feel more positive about their personal finances.

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However, Phil Monkhouse, the UK country manager at the global financial services firm Ebury, said that even if the weather improved, shoppers might hold off spending because of uncertainty around policies and interest rates.

“With the snap general election announcement injecting fresh uncertainty into the minds of consumers, retailers should not bet on the summer weather significantly lifting spending any time soon,” he said.

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