The amount British retailers sold remained unchanged last month after a rise in clothing sales helped offset falls at department stores and food shops, new figures show. 

The latest ONS data showed that sales growth was recorded at 0.0% across the retail sector, down from 0.1% growth in February. The statisticians have revised February’s retail sales volumes reading from an earlier estimate of 0.0%.

In the first three months of 2024, retail sales volumes increased by 1.9%, compared with the last quarter of 2023.

“Retail sales registered no growth in March. Hardware stores, furniture shops, petrol stations and clothing stores all reported a rise in sales. However, these gains were offset by falling food sales, and in department stores where retailers say higher prices hit trading,” ONS Senior Statistician Heather Bovill said.

“Looking at the longer-term picture, across the latest three months retail sales increased after a poor Christmas.”

The ONS said its data had tracked rises in sales at second-hand goods shops, hardware shops and furniture and clothing stores.

Food stores saw a fall of 0.7% while non-food store sales were up 0.5%. There was a 1.5% drop in sales for non-store retailers, which include online shops and market stalls among others.

Lisa Hooker, an expert at consultancy PwC, warned that the March figures should be “taken with a pinch of salt” because Easter fell earlier than normal this year. The ONS tries to adjust for that.

She added: “What is clear is that the first quarter of the year has been disappointing for many retailers. Lower inflation and the first 2% cut to National Insurance which was felt in January’s pay packets has yet to translate into a sustained recovery in spending.”

The news follows recent reports that UK inflation dropped to a fresh two-and-a-half year low in March 2024, helped by a slowdown in retail, clothing and footwear inflation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the figures show “that after a tough couple of years, our economic plan is working”.

However, financial markets pushed back expectations for interest rate cuts after the figures amid concerns over persistence in services and wage inflation.

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