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UK Clothing and Footwear Sales Show Largest Decline in 18 Months

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Non-food prices are still falling in the United Kingdom, but shoppers are not opening their wallets.

According to the latest BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor, published Monday, clothing and footwear sales fell 3 percent in March to achieve their largest decline since September 2014, despite increased promotional activity.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive officer of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), placed part of the blame on the earlier timing of Easter, pointing out that even food sales suffered, falling 0.7% in the last three months.

However: “This slowdown can’t be viewed in isolation; retail is an industry undergoing significant structural change as the investment in the digital offer continues apace while, from a consumer perspective, more disposable income is being spent on leisure and entertainment,” she said.

As recently published data from BRC and Nielsen showed, retail prices (excluding food) were down 2.6% in March from the prior year. Better than the 3 percent slip in February, but still the 36th consecutive month of declines, with footwear, men’s clothing and childrenswear in particular carrying lower price tags.

“Earlier Easters are not always good for the fashion industry as consumers are put off purchases of lighter fashions and footwear in cooler temperatures and this was certainly the case this year,” David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said. “Looking ahead, retailers will be hoping for fewer April showers this month to entice spending on these newly launched ranges and to help alleviate the additional cost burden with the implementation of the National Living Wage.”

Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of the Institute of Grocery Distribution, said that improving shopper sentiment should help the situation going forward.

“Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of shoppers say their personal economic situation will improve or stay the same in the coming year, compared to just four in ten (39 percent) who said the same in 2011,” she noted.

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