Retail sales jumped unexpectedly in April as shoppers loaded up on alcohol and tobacco, likely a blip in an otherwise bleak trend that has driven consumer confidence to all-time lows amid a worsening cost-of-living crunch.
Retail sales volumes rose 1.4% month on month after a 1.2% drop in March, the Office for National Statistics said.Retail sales in the three months to April fell 0.3%, after a 0.7% drop in March. Compared with a year ago, sales volumes were 4.9% lower, marking the biggest annual drop since January 2021.
Food store sales rose by 2.9% in April, largely driven by strong sales of alcohol, tobacco and ‘sweet treats’.This was “possibly due to people staying in more to save money,” ONS statistician Heather Bovill said.
Online clothes sales also did well as people got ready for summer holidays and weddings, she added.
Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:
“Retail sales are being squeezed by a combination of low demand, high inflation and rising costs. The fall in demand comes as consumers reign in their discretionary spending following a significant reduction to real incomes for households across the UK. Meanwhile, retailers face higher food and commodity prices, increased shipping and transport costs, and the tightest labour market in decades.
“Retailers are working hard to support their customers by keeping costs down where they can, and expanding affordable ranges, however it is impossible to mitigate all the costs coming through their supply chains. Until inflation is brought to heel, and consumer confidence returns, retailers could be in for some difficult times ahead, with lower demand and reduced margins.”