Retail sales growth beats expectations of slow down, latest CBI Distributive Trades Survey shows

Retail sales volumes held broadly steady in March beating expectations of growth slowing, according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey.

The survey of 125 firms consisting of 63 retailers showed that sales volumes were stable and that companies expect volumes to accelerate next month.  Meanwhile, orders placed on suppliers also exceeded expectations of a fall in March and reported moderate growth over the year.  Next month, orders are likely to remain steadfast and are expected to grow at the same rate.

Retail sales growth for the time of the year was considered to be at an average level and companies indicated that they expect them to pick up next month.

The volume of internet sales held broadly steady in the year to March and growth is set to pick up slightly in April.

Meanwhile, grocers reported growth to be stable in the year to March and the clothing sector saw sales rising strongly for a second consecutive month.

Elsewhere, wholesaling reported slower sales volumes growth in the year to March, while motor trades saw sales volumes rise strongly.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI director of economics said: “It’s encouraging to see that sales are holding up and expectations have picked up further.  Retailers are still face challenging global conditions but will welcome the Chancellor’s Budget reforms to business rates, making it easier for them to operate on the high street.

“Continued low levels of inflation and more jobs will continue to boost household spending, also giving a helping hand to firms.”


Key findings:

  • 17% of retailers said that sales volumes, whilst 16% said they were down, giving a steady balance of +1.
  • Retailers reported a balance for the volume of sales for this month of +7, with 31% saying they were up and 24% indicating they were down.
  • 31% of retailers expect sales volumes to be increase in the month to April, with 14% expecting them to decrease, giving a balance of +17.
  • 31% of retailers placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago, and 27% placed fewer, giving a rounded balance of +5. Orders are expected to be flat next month.
  • Most sub-sectors saw steady growth in sales volumes, strong performances were reported in clothing (+50) and recreational goods (+84).
  • Grocers reported growth to be stable in the year to March, recording a balance of +8, up on the reported +5 in February.
  • Volumes of internet sales in the retail sector remained steady (+27), with expectations that they will rise in the month to April (+38).


  • 31% of wholesalers reported sales volumes to be up on last year and 23% said they were down, giving a steady balance of +8.

Motor trades:

  • 92% of motor traders reported that sales volumes were up on a year ago, while 8% said they were down, giving a balance of +84, significantly exceeding expectations (+22).