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Retail sales return to "pre-pandemic levels" and rise 1.2% in February
24 March 2023

Returning to pre-pandemic levels, British retailers experienced a stronger-than-expected month in February, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS said that the soaring cost of living had helped some shops such as discount department stores. Across the UK retail sector sales volumes rose by 1.2%, a whole percentage point more than the 0.2% experts were expecting.

The ONS also upgraded its January retail figures to 0.9% growth, up from a previous estimate of 0.5%.

Sales in food shops rose by 0.9%, the ONS said, whilst non-food stores jumped up by 2.4%.

The amount spent at retailers rose by 6.3% over the last 12 months, excluding petrol and diesel, despite volumes falling 3.3%.

Darren Morgan, ONS Director of Economic Statistics, commented: "Retail grew sharply in February with sales returning to their pre-pandemic level. However, the broader picture remains more subdued, with retail sales showing little real growth, particularly over the last 18 months with price rises hitting consumer spending power.

“In the latest month, discount department stores performed strongly with food shops also doing well as consumers, confronted with cost-of-living pressures, cut back on eating out or purchasing takeaways."

Lisa Hooker, an expert at PwC, added: “Overall, retail spending appears to be more resilient than many expected at the start of the year. While consumers face cost-of-living challenges and interest rate rises, this has been offset to some extent by wage rises and caps on energy prices.

“If, as expected, inflation continues to abate, retailers will be hoping the current sales momentum picks up pace as the year progresses, possibly even in time for May’s Coronation, but certainly towards the end of the year when we expect disposable incomes to start increasing in real terms.”

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