A shopper sits on a bench in front of closed down stores in Basildon, U.K. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

U.K. Consumers Wary of Brexit Hold Off Big Purchases in March

(Bloomberg) -- Consumer spending declined in March as concerns over Brexit and the late timing of the Easter holiday held back shoppers.

Total retail sales decreased by 0.5 percent, compared to a 2.3 percent gain a year earlier when the holiday was in March, the British Retail Consortium and KPMG said. That’s below the three- and 12-month averages. On a like-for-like basis, sales declined 1.1 percent.

Clothing was a bright spot due to good weather, but shoppers held off from big ticket purchases like furniture, the BRC said.

“March marked a truly disappointing end to the first quarter of 2019 for retailers,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC. “No further clarity around Brexit came to light and shoppers continue to waiver. Retailers will be hoping for an end to this sustained uncertainty – it’s clearly not good for business.”

A separate report from Barclaycard was more upbeat, seeing spending rise 3.1 percent from a year earlier, led by non-essential items which were particularly depressed by the severe storms in March 2018.

Even so, the firm’s survey of 2,000 consumers found they were not immune to the political and economic uncertainty of recent weeks. Nearly seven in 10 said they are not confident in the current environment, the least optimistic since the card provider began tracking the data in 2014. Almost half are worried that their quality of life will decline due to Brexit, with 31 percent concerned that the rising cost of everyday items will make life harder for them.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.