This is not a surprise given both the snow and the rise in VAT. It is worth remembering that one month's data does not make a trend, particularly as the BRC index is a comparison with a single month twelve month's earlier. If last year's sales were very good that month then this can make today's sales look disproportionately weak.
I personally would avoid this melodramatic statement:
Stephen Robertson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said:
“An awful start to the year and in stark contrast to an upbeat December. This is the worst January sales growth in the 15 years we’ve been running the survey. It was a month of two halves with a focus on must-haves early on. The coldest January since 1987 boosted food sales at the start of the month, as shoppers stocked up. But food sales growth melted with the snow. The month as a whole was significantly weaker than December.
“Most non-food sectors had a poor start, though nearly all recovered towards the end of the month. Furniture and DIY were worst hit as customers put off buying non-essentials. The VAT change brought some sales forward to December, but customers are becoming cautious again in the face of economic and political uncertainty. Retailers will be hoping these results are mainly a snow induced blip, rather than an indication of further difficulties.”