Apr 13, 2011
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Retail sales plunge to 'lowest since at least 1995'

Apr 13, 2011

April 13 - The British Retail Consortium revealed the biggest sales drop in its history on Monday, in a further sign that consumers' belt-tightening is hitting the high street hard.

The British Retail Consortium said total sales for March were down 1.9 percent from a year ago

With many shoppers focused on paying for the essentials, the BRC said total sales for March were down 1.9 percent from a year ago, the steepest decline since it began its monthly survey in 1995.

The trade association said the early timing of Easter last year had a major impact on the figures, but that it was obvious that people were "unwilling to spend unless they really had to".

"Mounting fuel and utility costs, falling house prices, higher VAT and the prospect of more tax rises and job losses left people unwilling to spend unless they really had to," said BRC director Stephen Robertson.

"These pressures aren't going away and the arrival of higher National Insurance is likely to compound them in the immediate future."

A report by the Centre for Economic and Business Research published on Sunday said the average family would be £910 worse off this year as a result of rising household bills -- although official data released on Tuesday showed a surprise drop in inflation to 4.0 percent in March from 4.4 percent in February.

Warning that weaker retailers will not survive if spending does not pick up soon, the BRC said furniture and big-ticket items had suffered the most in the last month.

Clothing and book sales sank to their lowest since 2009 and 2005 respectively.

Several retail giants, including Mothercare, HMV and PC World parent Dixons Retail, have announced plunging profits in recent weeks.

While shops are emptying, the BRC said internet and mail-order purchases were up 7.5 percent from a year ago -- though this is the smallest rise since the records began in 2008.

The trade body says its monthly survey, conducted by KPMG, covers 60 percent of the retail sector.

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