A retail expert has warned that there are “tough times ahead” for store owners as spending has decreased for the first time in more than a year amid soaring living costs.

As consumers tighten the purse strings shops will reportedly begin to feel the pinch, with one retail expert suggesting that it will come down to a choice for the public between “feeding their families” and making other less necessary purchases.

Eleanor Thomas, spokesperson for online retailer Wholee, commented: “The figures from KPMG and the British Retail Consortium [showing] that retail sales fell by 0.3% in April are the clearest indication yet that retail spending is facing tough times ahead.

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“We have not yet hit the nadir of this crisis, with inflation set to continue to rise to at least 10% before the year is out and energy bills set to increase.

“Consumers will prioritise feeding their families over discretionary spending as belts are further tightened.

“Retailers, whether online or in-store, need to recognise that they need to adjust their process to support consumers through what is, for many of them, the toughest financial situation they have faced. Retailers such as supermarkets have already committed to either price freezes or reductions, and more need to follow suit.”

This comes in the wake of ominous data released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The organisation showed that sales decreased by 0.3% in April, against an increase of 51.1% in April 2021. This is below the three-month average growth of 3.2% and the 12-month average growth of 6.4%.

On a three-year comparison, over the three months to March, in-store sales of non-food items declined 48.2% (Yo3Y) on a total basis since March 2019.

Online non-food sales decreased by 13.9% during April, compared with growth of 11.3% in April 2021.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, added: “The rising cost of living has crushed consumer confidence and put the brakes on consumer spending.

“Sales growth has been slowing since January, though the real extent of this decline has been masked by rising inflation.

“Big ticket items have been hit hardest, as consumers reigned in spending on furniture, electricals and other homeware; compounded by delays on goods coming from China.

“Meanwhile, thanks to the April sunshine, garden goods and fashion saw stronger sales, particularly occasionwear as consumers prepared for summer and this year’s wedding season.

“Customers face a difficult year; with the Bank of England predicting inflation to reach more than 10%.

“Retailers are experiencing higher costs as a result of rising commodity prices, transport costs, labour shortages, delays at ports, and the war in Ukraine.

“Further headwinds are incoming, such as rising global food prices, which rose 13% between March and April. Retailers will continue to do all they can to mitigate the effects of these costs rises, but unfortunately they cannot absorb them all.”

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