It may seem counter-intuitive that the sudden appearance of the sun should get everyone heading for the strip lights of the shops. But the heat prompted a rise in sales of gardening and outdoor leisure gear, warm weather clothing and footwear in March. Sales of the latter were the strongest since April 2007.
Like-for-like sales of such non-food items – which strip out the impact of additional floor space – were more modest, rising 1.3% in March, beating expectations of zero growth. They’d fallen 0.3% in February.
As for food sales, the BRC says the warm weather drove sales of salads, fruit, ice cream, cold meats and barbecue products, while Mother's Day helped sales of confectionery, gift food and sparkling wines. But the pace of growth in food sales was unchanged from February – and still less down to customers actually buying more than the impact of rising food prices.
Indeed, that should serve as a clue that we shouldn’t get carried away by the figures. For one thing the point of comparison – last year’s March sales – was ‘exceptionally weak’ according to the BRC. Yes we have the Olympics this year, and the Queen’s Jubilee, which may help maintain enthusiasm for splurging, but punters also have rising fuel and utilities bills to contend with. Indeed, separate data from research group Springboard found that the number of customers who hit the High Street over the Easter weekend fell 12.5% this year, as the economy and the rain put people off.
As Stephen Robertson, the BRC’s director general pointed out: ‘It will take more than a week of sunshine to transform retailers' fortunes.’ Especially when there’s another storm raging in Europe…