today released April's sales figures, revealing that on a month-to-month basis the British public has spent less across all sectors of retail - resulting in a 2.3% decrease in total retail sales.
This has, in fact, largely been the case over the last four years. March tends to provide an early-year boost to sales figures, resulting in a return to something approaching normalcy in April - indicated by the chart below.
Perhaps a fairer reflection on how April 2012 performed is to look at a year-on-year comparison. Yearly sales overall were down almost £500 million on April 2011, and sales excluding petrol were down by around £288 million. Some sectors, however, saw an increase in spending - namely non-specialised stores, household goods and non-store retailing - which I'll come to later. The graph below indicates that this April essentially returned to levels seen in years previous (when petrol sales are excluded) - this could point to April 2011 being something of a Royal-Wedding-inspired anomaly.
I think the decline in year on year figures can largely be explained away by a combination of the lack of nationally-celebrated nuptials (with the additional bonus of an extra bank holiday) and, of course, the wettest April since 1910. The fact that some sectors seem to have picked up since 12 months ago is also slightly encouraging.
One interesting piece of information I picked up from the figures is that although some sectors of retail increased slightly; the only one showing a steady increase over a number of years is 'non-store retailing' - which, one can surmise, reveals the ever-increasing tendency to shop online.
This graph indicates the increase in sales figures for non-store retailing in the month of April since 2000. Despite the aforementioned £288 million decrease in overall sales from 2011-12, non-store sales increased by around £162.5 million overall. This simply points to the robustness of the on-line retail environment, and to the nature of the challenge facing those who wish to return Britain's high streets and town centres to their former glory.
The on-line retail revolution was pointed to by GVA's 'Unlocking Town Centre Retail Developments'
today as one of the main reasons for the high street decline - as retailers continue to row back their requirements for physical space in lieu of pursuing multi-channel sales. On this evidence, it's hard to see how the high street can fight back, and enjoy a similar upward curve in years to come.