UK retail sales soar 5.4% in March
UK retail sales soared in March ahead of a partial lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, according to official data released on Friday.
Sales volumes jumped 5.4% in March compared with February, the Office for National Statistics said, with clothing stores showing a rise of 17.5% even though non-essential stores remained closed until April 12.
Economists had forecast a month-on-month increase of 1.5%.
Food stores reported monthly growth of 2.5%, with specialist food stores such as butchers and bakers benefiting, “likely reflecting the continued closure of the hospitality sector during the Easter period”, the ONS said.
Automotive fuel retailers also reported strong monthly growth of 11.1% as travel restrictions were eased towards the end of the reporting period.
However, despite strong March figures retail sales for the quarter to March 31 have been subdued overall, the ONS said, with volumes down 5.8% compared with the previous three months.
There were strong declines in both clothing stores and other non-food stores as a result of the tighter lockdown restrictions in place.
"The physical shopping experience is still far from the madding crowd, with footfall overall still at 75% of 2019 levels. Although this may indicate that some people are still fearful of venturing out, it’s highly likely that our new online shopping habits are here to stay," said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Susannah Streeter.
"Our spending has surged in the first week of re-opening, with the CHAPS-based indicator of credit and debit card purchases increasing by 8 percentage points from the previous week. However it wasn’t the big blow out that many had predicted, with spending still at 91% of its February 2020 average."
"Large numbers of shoppers are still shunning the high street, with footfall still 65% below levels during the equivalent week in 2019. But footfall at retail parks ticked back up to 98% of 2019 levels. It seems we are turning our backs on narrower streets, busy public transport and jostling shoppers, preferring to arrive by car and keep our distance in the larger stores that retail parks provide."