UK retail sales unexpectedly rose in April, underpinned in part by an increase in food store sales, according to figures released on Friday by the Office for National Statistics.
Retail sales were up 1.4% following a 1.2% decline March, and versus expectations for a 0.2% drop. Compared with pre-Covid February 2020 levels, retail sales were ahead 4.1%.
Food store sales were up 2.8%, mostly due to higher spending on alcohol and tobacco in supermarkets, the ONS said. Meanwhile, fuel sales rose 1.4% on the month and sales at non-food stores were 0.6% lower.
ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators, Heather Bovill, said: “April’s rise was driven by an increase in supermarket sales, led by alcohol and tobacco and sweet treats, with off-licences also reporting a boost, possibly due to people staying in more to save money.”
In the three months to April, retail sales were down 0.3% following a 0.7% decline in March.
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “The impact of April’s increase in both National Insurance contributions and energy bills hasn’t fully emerged in the retail sales data yet, because most people only get paid towards the end of the month, and bills will be paid progressively through the month.
“It won’t be until May’s data that we can assess how much of the resulting squeeze on households’ real disposable incomes has fed through to spending.”
He said the rise in food store sales “suggests that people are responding to the real income squeeze by spending less in pubs and bars”.
A survey from GfK also released on Friday showed that UK consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in May since records began in 1974 amid the cost-of-living crisis.