Fairer weather in April saw British consumers return to shops, department stores and supermarkets helping retail sales rebound from a slump in March caused by unseasonably wet weather. File Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
May 26 (UPI) -- British shoppers returned to the high street in April helping retail sales rebound in to the black from a worse-than-expected 1.2% contraction in March, according to official figures published Friday.
April retail sales volumes rose 0.5% after unseasonably wet weather in March kept consumers at home, depressing volumes by an even greater margin than the first estimate of -0.9%, the Office for National Statistics said in a bulletin.
Quarterly sales volumes were at their highest level since August 2021, up 0.8% in the February to April period compared with the November to January period.
April non-food store sales saw the strongest rebound, climbing 1%, after falling 1.8% in March, while food store sales volumes added 0.7% compared with a 0.8% contraction the previous month, but with food price inflation running close to 20%, food sales had a considerable way to go to recover to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels, the ONS said.
"Retail sales grew, partially rebounding from a poor weather-affected March, with jewelers, sports retailers and department stores all having a good month. Despite continued high food prices, supermarkets also recovered from the fall in March," ONS Chief Economist Grant Fitzner wrote in a Twitter post.
"However, these were partly offset by a drop in the amount of fuel sold, despite prices also dropping."
Automotive fuel sales volumes, which were flat in March, plunged 2.2% in April but online retailers' volumes recovered from a 1.4% fall in March to grow by 0.2%.
Department stores also posted strong performance with volumes surging to 1.7% following a sharp 3% drop in March 2023 -- but volumes remain 5% below their pre-coronavirus levels of Feb. 2020.
ONS said its public polling data showed sales volumes in March and April may have been affected by industrial action with 39% of adults questioned April 5 to April 16 reporting being affected by industrial action in the last month, up from 27% March 23 to April 2 period.
Almost 1 in 5 said strikes had thwarted holiday or leisure travel plans compared with 14% for the period March 23 to April 2.
Nationwide, the country's second-largest lender, hiked mortgage rates Friday by as much as 45 basis points on fears the Bank of England will have to raise interest rates from their current 4.5% to as high as 5.5%. The market average on a mortgage fixed for two years is already 5.34%.