UK retail sales surged in April as non-essential stores reopened, according to figures released on Friday by the Office for National Statistics.
Retail sales jumped 9.2% on the month following a 5.1% increase in March and versus expectations for a 4.5% rise. The largest contribution came from non-food stores, with sales at clothing stores up 69.4%.
Non-essential shops reopened on 12 April in England and on 26 April in Wales.
Compared with April 2020 – during the first national lockdown – retail sales were up 42.4%, exceeding expectations for growth of 36.8%.
Sales volumes are now 10.6% higher than in February 2020, before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Deputy National Statistician for Economic Statistics Jonathan Athow said: “Retail sales grew sharply in April and are now over 10% above pre-pandemic levels as restrictions eased and more shops were able to open their doors.
“Clothing sales soared by nearly three quarters as consumers took advantage of being able to visit physical stores. Perhaps unsurprisingly, overall online sales dipped, but still remain high.
“Fuel sales increased again this month, but remain below pre-pandemic level as although more people are travelling, many are still working from home.”
Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said the leap in retail sales volumes in April shows that households flooded back to non-essential shops once they reopened.
“This may be the last big leap in retail sales, but there is already evidence that the hospitality sector picked up the growth baton in May.
“With total retail sales now 10.6% above their pre-pandemic peak, there is obviously less scope for further big gains. But the recovery in GfK consumer confidence to pre-pandemic levels in May (to -9 from -15 in April) and the further rise in spending on CHAPS electronic cards in the same month suggests that the overall economic recovery will continue in May.
“It’s just it will be driven by people going back to the pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres rather than the shops. Overall, the data support our view that the recovery will be fast and full. Even so, we doubt the Bank of England will move to snuff it out until 2024.”