Apr 9, 2019
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Fashion struggles as UK spending is weak in March

Apr 9, 2019

Two regular reports on Tuesday highlighted the weakness of UK consumer spending at present but also how tough it is to judge overall consumer sentiment given tricky comparisons with a year ago and the impact of the Easter calendar shift.

Shopping wasn't on most UK consumers' minds last month

Regardless of all that though, clothing sales failed to ignite in March and average transaction values for fashion dropped too, while beauty sales rose.

The first report, from the the British Retail Consortium, said a mixture of seasonal issues and Brexit concerns were what hit spending. 

Total sales at its members fell 0.5% last month, the first drop in a year. But the late timing of Easter this year will have been partly responsible. However, BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson also said “Brexit continues to feed the uncertainty among consumers.”

There was good news from this report in that BRC members (mainly big chains and supermarkets) said jewellery, beauty products and clothing purchases were all up due to Mother’s Day. But it didn’t say by how much and the wider Barclaycard report was more gloomy on those sectors.

Barclaycard’s monthly report, which is particularly interesting as it covers all transactions made via the firm’s cards and factors in other transactions to get a complete picture, had worse news for fashion.

It said that overall year-on-year non-essential spending by consumers grew by 3.4%, the biggest increase since October but weighted towards consumers enjoying a night out rather than buying more products. Some 69% of consumers it surveyed lacked confidence in the economic outlook, which was the highest number in the survey’s five-year history. And the overall increase wasn’t even as good as it looked as it came against comparisons with March 2018 when snow crimped spending UK-wide.

Barclaycard said “there was no respite for clothing retailers, as sales saw their sixth consecutive month of decline, contracting 2.4%.” Department store spending also dropped a worse 4.7% “as the retail sector continues to face challenges.”

Looking more closely at the figures, Barclaycard said that family clothing sales down were 4%. Shoe shops managed a 1.4% increase though and womenswear was up 1.2%. But menswear dropped 3.6%. As mentioned, department stores had it tough, but cosmetics stores rose 3.7% and sport shops rose 5.5%. However, jewellers fell 2.1% and gift shops dropped 11.3%.

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