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Weather washes out fashion sales

The wettest April on record dampened demand for summer fashion as retailers suffered their biggest sales falls for more than a year, figures have revealed.

Like-for-like sales dropped a "disappointing" 3.3% - the worst performance since March 2011 - driven by "substantial" falls for clothes retailers and the worst footwear trading since January 2008, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

The trend was made worse because many shoppers had already splurged on summerwear in March's heatwave, while the period was up against tough comparatives with the previous year when hot weather and the Royal Wedding boosted sales of partywear and food.

Online retailers also saw demand slow amid the dreary weather, while supermarkets felt the pain despite the cold weather boosting sales of winter warmers, such as hot drinks, porridge, meat for stewing and soup.

However, there was a silver lining as sales of floor coverings and homewares, such as bedding, linen and lighting, received a boost as the depressing weather prompted people to give their homes a facelift.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "The wettest April since records began has put a dampener on retailers' fortunes. Consumer interest in summer fashions and outdoor products was washed away by constant downpours."

He said retailers, who have been hurt by the squeeze on consumers' spending power in recent years, are hoping that the diamond jubilee, Olympics and Euro 2012 football championships in coming months will boost demand and help the "feel-good factor" return.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at survey partner KPMG, said while sales in March were up 1.3% amid the heatwave, this was more than outweighed by April's falls.

She added: "Anything other than chilly winds and showers seems a distant memory for consumers and this sums up the mood of many retailers.

"While May will certainly be brighter than April, the health of the retail sector continues on a downward trajectory."