LONDON (Reuters) - Retail sales plunged unexpectedly last month, hurt by an earlier Easter this year, although the underlying trend appears to be improving, the British Retail Consortium said on Wednesday.
Sales values fell 2.2 percent from a year earlier on a like-for-like measure, which strips out changes in stores' floor space and is favoured by company analysts. That was the steepest drop in a year and confounded analysts' forecasts for a 1.8 percent rise.
The total value of sales dipped 0.6 percent in April, breaking an almost year-long run of growth.
Easter fell in April last year but in March this year, making for an unfavourable annual comparison in sales.
However, in the February-April period average sales picked up compared with a year earlier, both on the like-for-like and total measures.
"Taking away the Easter distortion, this was actually a better month than March, especially for non-food sales," said BRC Director General Helen Dickinson.
Health and beauty retailers gained in particular, as a cold spell early in the month boosted sales of cold and flu remedies, while sunny weather later in April encouraged shoppers to buy bronzing and skin care products, she noted.
"There's a sense that people are more prepared to spend than they were, but chief executives are telling me that's volatile," Dickinson said.
This assessment chimes with other early signs on the second quarter pointing to a slow and uneven economic recovery after Britain avoided another recession early this year.