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Retail sales slide as cold weather takes toll

Retail sales fell by 1.2% in March as freezing weather kept shoppers at home, official figures show.

The decline was worse than expected because of a sharp 7.4% downturn in petrol sales as the cold snap deterred motorists from travel.

But even stripping these out it was still a tough time for the high street with sales excluding petrol falling by 0.5%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However the snow did provide a boost for internet spending, the ONS said.

Department stores enjoyed 0.8% growth as offers for Mother’s Day and Easter gifts lifted online sales more than usual during the adverse weather, the ONS said.

The latest figures rounded off a grim first quarter for retail sales, which were down by 0.5% compared to the final three months of 2017, the biggest quarterly fall for a year.

ONS senior statistician Rhian Murphy said: “Retail sales fell in the first quarter due to a large decline in March with petrol sales seeing a significant slump as a result of the poor weather keeping many shoppers indoors.”

The figures came hours after department store chain Debenhams reported an 85% fall in half-year profits as sales were severely dented by the “Beast from the East” cold weather spell.

Howard Archer, chief economic advisor at the EY ITEM Club, said: “Retailers will be hoping that some of the sales that were lost in March to the bad weather will end up being largely delayed rather than lost.”

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The weather impact has added to the pressure on the high street caused by a year-long squeeze on household incomes that has only just ended, during which wage growth has been lagging behind inflation.

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