Page last updated at 08:26 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

February snow 'hit retail sales'

Man clearing snow from outside his shop
Heavy snow kept shoppers away early in the month

Britain's retailers suffered falling sales in February, partly as a result of the heavy snow, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Like-for-like sales, which exclude new stores, fell 1.8% in February, compared with the same month of 2008. But total sales actually grew by 0.1%.

It followed January's unexpected 1.1% rise in like-for-like sales.

But there were some positive effects from the snow. Sales of spades, duvets and boots all grew.

"The short burst of spending unleashed by January clearances has largely vanished, replaced by sales as weak as most of last year," said Stephen Robertson, director general of the retail lobbying group.

More announcements of job losses and other cost cutting measures in the sector look likely in the short term
Helen Dickinson, KPMG

"Early February snow did not help but customers' and retailers' difficulties run deeper," he added.

Total sales had risen 3.2% in January amid heavy discounting.

Rising costs

Between December and February, like-for-like sales fell 1.4% compared with the same three months last year, while total sales were up 0.6%.

Growth in total food sales slowed over the period to 6% while non-food sales shrank 3.2%.

Non-food non-store sales, which cover online, mail-order and telephone sales, were up 12.3% in February compared with February 2008, although that was still a slowdown from December's rate of 30%.

"Battling falling sales is not a sustainable prospect for many retailers in the non-food sectors, particularly as the impact of rising import costs is also filtering through to their margins," said Helen Dickinson, head of retail at the accountants KPMG.

"More announcements of job losses and other cost cutting measures in the sector look likely in the short term."

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