Shoppers defy economic gloom in September

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British retail sales have continued to increase for the fifth consecutive month, boosted by non-food items including DIY and garden supplies, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes rose by 1.5% between August and September.

The increase was nearly twice the size of the previous month’s rise of 0.8%.

Sales are now 5.5% higher than the pre-pandemic levels seen in February.

The three months to September saw the biggest quarterly increase on record, as retail sales volumes increased by 17.4% when compared with the previous three months.

However, analysts warned that the sales surge was unlikely to last.

Fuel lower

“While food sales have done well in recent months as people have eaten out less, non-food store sales have now made a recovery at 1.7% above their February levels,” the ONS said.

“Home improvement sales continued to do well in September, with increased sales in household goods and garden items within ‘other’ non-food stores.”

Fuel was the only main sector to remain below February’s pre-pandemic level, the ONS said, with volume sales 8.6% lower in September when compared with February 2020.

“As lockdown eased, we saw an increase in travel and the quantity of fuel bought. However, as many people remained working at home and with certain restrictions still in place, fuel sales were yet to fully recover,” it added.

The proportion of online sales was at 27.5%, compared with 20.1% reported in February.

“There’s no doubting that UK consumers have been doing their bit to boost the economy, following a quarter of record retail sales growth,” said Lynda Petherick, head of retail at Accenture UKI.

“There’s little time for retailers to gather breath, though, and they will already be wondering – or perhaps dreading – what lies ahead in Q4.

“This should be a time for excitement as the crucial ‘golden quarter’ for retail is now underway. However, with lockdown measures across the UK tightening by the day, retailers are braced for a difficult and unconventional end to the year.”