Retail sales enjoyed a surprising boost in March climbing much higher than expected, led by a spike in food shopping.
Sales rose 1.1 per cent month-on-month, above expectations of a 0.3 per cent drop as food store sales and non-store retailing drove the increase, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Year-on-year sales jumped 6.7 per cent - the largest rise since October 2016 - from last March, which was heavily affected by the Beast from the East.
In the first three months of the year sales grew 1.6 per cent compared with the final quarter of 2018 - all types of shop boosted sales apart from department stores.
Head of retail sales at ONS Rhian Murphy said: "Retail sales increased in the three months to March, following sustained growth throughout the first three months of the year.
"March's mild weather boosted sales, with food shops also recovering after a weak February."
She added: "Over the longer term, department stores were the only shop type to see their sales shrink."
Chief economist at WorldFirst, Jeremy Thomson-Cook said: "These figures are surprising – a late Easter and declining credit card spending would typically mean a softer retail environment.
"Stronger employment and higher wages are natural drivers of higher consumer sentiment, while the effect from last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ brightens the year-on-year comparison."
Despite the largest year-on-year increase since October 2016, department store sales fell 0.3 per cent.
Online sales as a proportion of all retailing grew to 18.6 per cent from 18.1 per cent in February.
Department stores also enjoyed online sales growth of 3.4 per cent year-on-year but lagged behind all other shop types apart from household goods stores, which saw online sales fall 1.7 per cent.
More to follow.