By David Milliken and Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) -British retail sales surged by 9.2% in April, when non-essential shops reopened after months of closure due to COVID restrictions, their biggest jump since a previous reopening in June, official data showed on Friday.
Sales volumes were 42.4% higher than a year earlier, when they collapsed during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown, the Office for National Statistics said.
Economists polled by Reuters had on average forecast that retail sales volumes would rise by 4.5% on the month in April and surge 36.8% on the year.
“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,” ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said.
British retail sales are now 10.6% above their level in February 2020, before the pandemic struck, though many high-street retailers have suffered badly from repeated lockdowns which accelerated the shift to online commerce.
Department store Debenhams closed its last store this month after more than 240 years trading, although the brand name has been bought by online retailer Boohoo.
Retailers such as clothing and furniture stores which the government classed as non-essential only reopened to shoppers in England on April 12 after shutting in early January.
Bank of England policymakers are keeping a close watch on retail sales as they expect a surge in spending as richer households spend around a tenth of savings built up during lockdown over the next three years.
However retailers will have to compete with newly reopened pubs and restaurants for a share of disposable income.
(Reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce)