UK retail sales stall in April

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Scottish shops are outperforming the rest of the UK

Retail sales stalled in April but warmer weather boosted sales of clothing, which offset falls in other areas of spending.

The Office for National Statistics said sales in April were flat on March, when sales had unexpectedly risen.

In the three months to April, sales increased by 1.8%, with a record quarter for the online sector.

ONS statistician Rhian Murphy said three-month growth was strong, with warmer weather boosting sales.

Online sales rose 9.4% over the three-month period – the highest three-month-on-three-month growth rate since records began, the ONS said.

“Elsewhere, department stores continued to see their sales fall,” Ms Murphy said.

The ONS said anecdotal evidence from retailers suggested warm weather in April boosted sales.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.3% fall in April.

Warm weather

Compared with a year earlier, sales were up by 5.2% after a 6.7% annual rise in March.

Economists said the figures showed that Brexit was not having an impact on spending.

“April’s retail sales figures are a timely reminder that political uncertainty is having no discernible impact on households’ overall spending. The stability of volumes in April is a good result, following recent strong gain,” said Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“Admittedly, warmer-than-usual weather – average temperatures were 1.1C above their 1970-to-2018 April average – probably temporarily stimulated clothing sales,” he added.

Duncan Brewer, retail partner at management consultants Oliver Wyman, said economic uncertainty and the Brexit process were not yet weighing too strongly on consumer sentiment.

“This is in stark contrast [to] continued bad news from our ailing High Streets, which continue to be challenged by the shift to online. Retail used to be simple: consumers went to stores, browsed products, then bought what they wanted,” he said.