Retail sales rebound by a better-than-expected 2.1%

 

Retail sales rebounded by a better-than-expected 2.1% last month as shoppers returned to the high street after a snow-hit start to the year, figures revealed today.

Strong sales of tablet computers helped drive the bounce-back, while department stores also benefited with sales up 10.6% in February, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The surge in retail sales volumes came after a dire January, when sales plunged after many small shops were forced to shut as snow blanketed much of Britain.

Analysts said the latest figures came as a surprise, given that average earnings growth of 1.2% is well short of inflation at 2.8% and consumer confidence remains low.

Despite the economic difficulties, some companies such as Zara, Sports Direct and Asos have reported strong results recently.

Peter Saville, partner at restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper, said: "This is certainly a step in the right direction, but retailers can't afford to take their eye off the ball.

"Struggling firms will need to follow in the footsteps of these successful retailers by staying on top of the latest trends, providing an innovative experience for shoppers and developing a multi-channel approach."

The month-on-month rise was the highest since last April and follows a downwardly revised 0.7% drop in sales between December and January.

Sales also saw a sharp rise against a year earlier, up 2.6% in February.

As well as a jump in tablet sales, shops also reported robust demand for sporting goods and jewellery.

But higher prices hit food sales, down 1.2% year-on-year last month, according to the ONS.

Today's figures also showed the continued rise in online shopping, with the average weekly spend via the internet jumping by 10.1% to £540.5 million last month.

The sales increase will fuel hopes for the wider economy, which has been left teetering on the brink of an unprecedented triple dip recession after contracting by 0.3% at the end of last year.

Official forecasters at the Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday said they expected the UK to narrowly avoid falling back into recession, predicting growth of 0.1% this quarter.

PA

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