- By Noor Nanji & Daniel Thomas
- Business reporter, BBC News
New figures show that sales of home furnishings and accessories surged in March as people ate less to save money and entertained at home instead.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said this helped increase total retail sales by 5.1 per cent last month from a year earlier.
It comes as the cost of living remains high, putting pressure on households.
Inflation – the rate at which prices increase – rose 10.4% in the year to February.
According to the BRC, Mother’s Day “boosted” sales in March, with people buying jewelry, flowers and perfume.
But the wettest March in more than 40 years has curbed demand for fashion items, as well as gardening and home-made products.
However, sales of home accessories and furniture jumped for the month, seeing the strongest growth of any category, according to BRC and accounting firm KPMG.
Paul Martin, KPMG’s UK head of retail, says people are choosing to entertain at home to cut costs. He added that this trend is likely to continue into April as council taxes, mobile and utility bills rise and personal tax benefits are frozen.
“We’re going to see consumers cut back on discretionary spending even more,” he said. “Consumers will continue to take steps to reduce spending where possible – switching where they shop, what they buy, and spending on fewer items.”
Meanwhile, retail research firm IGD said that as food prices continue to rise, grocery stores will find other ways to satisfy customers.
“They are trying to deliver value with loyalty programs, quality private label products and meal solutions that allow consumers to recreate the restaurant experience at home,” said owner Susan Barrett. “.
Despite the challenges, the BRC said consumer confidence is “on the rise”, while major events such as the King’s coronation in May are likely to boost retailers.
However, hostess Helen Dickinson warned that businesses continue to face “widespread” cost pressures such as rising wholesale costs and wages.
“Unless these future costs are settled, we are likely to see continued high inflation for UK consumers, who already face family bills,” she said. family increased from this month”.
The Bank of England predicts inflation will fall sharply later this year due to falling food and energy prices. However, Governor Andrew Bailey warned businesses not to raise prices too high after the UK inflation rate unexpectedly spiked.