Retail news round-up: Weather hits sales and Easter footfall; Cardzone and Card Factory beat the gloom

Total like-for-like in-store sales were down by -10.1% in March from a flat base last year, according to BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker. BDO said that the second worst month on record was primarily due to the severe winter weather.

Footfall dropped by -3.3% over the four-day Easter weekend from Easter last year, but Springboard said that this belied the improved performance of retail parks and shopping centres in the face of rain-hit high streets.

Greeting card multiples Card Factory and Cardzone brought positive news for the industry, with the former reporting a 6% rise in sales, although pre-tax profits fell by 11.9% in the past financial year. It’s all good at Cardzone, however, which was listed in the The Sunday Times’ BDO Profit Track 100 league table for British companies with the fastest growing profits.

GfK’s Consumer Confidence Index rose three points in March, with all five of the constituent measures recording higher values. ‘Despite the Beast from the East, stoic UK consumers turned faintly bullish,’ said GfK’s Joe Staton. ‘Spring is in the air with increases across the board on personal finances, the general economy – over the last year and next year – and on current major purchase intentions. The prospect of wage rises finally outstripping declining inflation, high levels of employment with low-level interest rates, and finally some movement on the Brexit front appear to have boosted our spirits.’

There have been 21,413 job losses in the retail sector since the start of the year, according to new data from Press Association. The first quarter was the worst since the financial crash.

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson has welcomed the ‘breakthrough in the negotiations logjam’ over Brexit, describing the agreement on a framework for a standstill transition period as ‘vital to avoid a cliff-edge by giving businesses and government time to adjust, plan ahead and invest’. She was also encouraged by the UK and EU-27 negotiators ‘appearing committed to a tariff-free deal, which is important for consumers’.

Commenting on the interim report of the Migration Advisory Committee, Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation at the BRC, said: ‘This is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the economic and social impacts of Brexit. From distribution to stores and in head office roles, EU colleagues in retail contribute enormously to the industry … Our priority is for a simple, demand-led system for the future, which strikes the best balance between getting the right skills in place in the UK and a migration system that complements the UK labour market.

Meanwhile, according to Federation of Small Businesses research, the EU single market is a priority trading bloc with 63% of small firms wanting to see a trade deal prioritised with the EU post Brexit. However, at an individual country level the US is the country that the highest percentage of exporting small businesses would want to see a trade deal done with post Brexit (49%) – with 29% wanting to see a trade deal with Australia and 28% with China.

The national living wage for those aged over 25 has increased from £7.50 an hour to £7.83, while 21 to 24-year-olds will receive a 33p an hour rise to £7.38. Those aged between 18 and 21 will see a 30p increase to £5.90, with under-18s receiving a 15p rise to £4.20.

Alan Monahan