April got off to a poor start for retailers, according to the CBI's latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey.
Conducted between March 26 and April10, it revealed that sales volumes remained flat in April, well below average for the time of year and to a much greater extent than expected. The volume of sales recorded the lowest balance, -3%, since August 2012, continuing a steadily weakening trend in growth since November, says the CBI.
The volume of orders also fell on a year ago, again disappointing expectations of growth, while stock levels remained above their long-run average relative to expected demand.
Barry Williams, Asda chief merchandising officer for food, and chair of the CBI Distributive Trades Survey Panel, said: "Retailers were frustrated this month by the on-going stagnation in sales growth. This may be explained in part by the unseasonal weather we suffered, but there's no doubt that high street conditions are tricky, with consumers lacking the confidence to go out and spend, as they still feel the pinch in their pocket."
Clothing and footwear were among the sectors that saw a fall in sales, but furniture and carpets enjoyed a 77% rise and sales at non-store retailers were up 67%.
Sales volumes are now expected to see a small fall in the year to May, with 27% of firms anticipating an increase versus 33% predicting a fall, resulting in a balance of -6%. The volume of orders placed with suppliers is also predicted to drop, with 21% of retailers expecting them to be up on a year ago and 36% down, a balance of -15%.
The survey also heard from wholesalers, 9% of which reported sales volumes up on a year earlier while for 35% they were down, giving a balance of -26%. This significant fall was very much against expectations of growth (+17%), says the CBI, although they expect sales to fall at a slower pace in the year to May.