New research into retail sales in the first part the year have revealed the full extent of the disruption caused by March’s ‘Beast from the East’ on the retail industry.

The latest figures from the retail representative group, Retail Excellence Ireland (REI), show that despite the improving economy, like-for-like sales were down 1.2 per cent in March, and a fifth of 1 per cent overall in the first quarter compared to the year previous. This decline comes despite the improving economy and a comparative boost to first-quarter sales by Easter falling in March, compared to April in 1017.

REI’s chief executive, David Fitzsimons, said the bad weather negatively impacted most on the 19 retail sectors examined in its first-quarter Productivity Review, which it produces in association with research firm GfK and Grant Thornton. It collates electronic sales data directly from the tills of retailers. “What is very clear is that the Irish retail industry is in a significant state of flux,” he said.

In terms of specific sectors, garden centres performed the worst, with sales down 15.8% in the first three months of the year when compared to 2017- for obvious weather-related reasons. IT and computing products saw a 17 per cent decline but were saved from a further fall by the early Easter period. IT sales, including computers and tablets, have dropped off hugely. In volume terms they were down 11% and 17 per cent in value terms Jewellery sales were down for all three months in the quarter, as were lingerie, ladieswear and menswear sales.

Among the best performing sectors were health stores (up 4%), small home appliances (up 6%) and furniture and flooring (up 3.6 % over the quarter). Grocery sales were up 1.1% which was “spurred on by Easter trading”, said Mr Fitzsimons. The rate of monthly growth in the sector actually increased in March, which may well have been partly due to bread sales.