Retail sales volumes rose at their fastest year-on-year rate for a decade in April amid a squeeze on prices, official figures showed today. Volumes were up by 6.9% compared to the same month last year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), while average store prices fell 0.6%.
It was the fastest rate since May 2004 and continues a pattern of year-on-year growth since early 2013 as the economic recovery has taken hold. Retail sales last month were up by 1.3% compared to March, well ahead of forecasts for a 0.4% month-on-month rise. The ONS also sharply revised up a 0.1% increase in March to 0.5% after late data returns.
Food stores experienced the fastest year-on-year rise in volume sales since January 2002, at 6.3%, as customers took advantage of the supermarket price war, driving average weekly sales to £3 billion.
Annual price inflation at grocers halved to 0.9% from 1.8% in March.
Non-food sales were up 6.5% on a year earlier while department stores climbed by 9.7%. Online sales spending was up 13.3%.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said the figures were "mightily impressive... even allowing for a major boost coming from the later Easter this year".
But Jeremy Cook, chief economist at currency company World First, said: "The main reason for this seems to be discounting or price cuts... this means that, while people are still pounding round the high street, profit margins remain squeezed."
Samuel Tombs of Capital Economics said that with earnings growth still struggling to beat inflation, spending rises may "slow a touch" over coming months.
But he said: "We remain fairly optimistic that a combination of easing inflation and a gradual rise in wages will push up real pay and help the consumer recovery to remain strong over the course of the year."
Ian Geddes, UK head of retail at Deloitte, said: "It is encouraging to finally see some strong figures in the food sector, as this remains a challenging market for the large grocers who are vigorously responding to consumers' changing retail habits."