A relatively late Easter, fine weather and an apparent rise in consumer confidence helped coax the shoppers out last month.
The Office for National Statistics reported yesterday that the volume and value of sales were up in April compared with last year, by 2.6 per cent and 3 per cent respectively, after a seasonal adjustment for the timing of Easter.
The ONS said the picture was "mixed", however. Clothing and footwear outlets and department stores fared better than food retailers, while household goods stores continued to bear the brunt of the downturn: volumes there fell by 6 per cent.
Analysts said that a jump in sales of almost 1 per cent on March adds to signs that consumer sentiment may be slowly beginning to return.
Howard Archer, the chief UK economist at Global Insight, said: "The rise in retail sales boosts hopes that consumers are feeling a little more prepared to spend as their purchasing power is lifted by sharply reduced mortgage payments and retreating inflation. The problem remains, though, that consumers remain under serious pressure from sharply rising unemployment, markedly reduced earnings growth, heightened debt levels and falling house prices."
Even if shoppers want to spend, the pressure on wages suggests that they may not have the means to do so. The Engineering Employers' Federation said yesterday that manufacturing pay settlements have fallen sharply to the "historically low" level of 1 per cent, with nearly two-thirds of manufacturers freezing pay.
Economists also pointed out that other, "off high street", spending, for example on new cars, is excluded from the retail sales numbers, and is much more depressed, with car registrations down by 27 per cent before the introduction of the scrappage scheme.Reuse content