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Alcohol and tobacco spend push April retail sales up

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Retail sales volumes rose 1.4% in April, as the warmer weather saw Brits spend more on alcohol, tobacco and clothing.

The positive retail sales figure follows the revised 1.2% fall in March and 0.5% decline in February, showing that despite the cost-of-living crisis, Brits were still spending.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), sales volumes are now 4.1% above their pre-coronavirus February 2020 level.

Food store sales rose 2.8% in April, mostly because of higher spending on alcohol and tobacco in supermarkets, though food sales were broadly unchanged.

Meanwhile non-store retailing – predominantly online-only retail sales – rose 3.7% in the month, led by stronger clothing sales.

While fuel sales fell sharply in March (4.2%), the ONS recorded a rise of 1.4% in April. But furniture stores saw a fall of 0.5% and non-food stores came in at -3.3%.

The proportion of retail sales online rose to 27%, up from 25.9% in March and remains substantially higher than the 19.9% recorded in February 2020 before the onset of the pandemic.

However, when looking at retail sales over the quarter (three months to April), the ONS said sales volumes fell 0.3% “continuing the downward trend since summer 2021”.

Emma-Lou Montgomery, associate director, personal investing at Fidelity International, said in April, the reality of the cost-of-living crisis was put on the “backburner”.

She said: “Whether it’s the Jubilee that’s got retailers’ tills jingling, the thrill of shorter working weeks during bank holiday ‘season’, the fact that the sun’s been out, and beers and BBQs are back on the menu, or plain old ‘revenge spending’, the nation’s retailers won’t be complaining about the surge in sales.

“Certainly, in April the reality of the cost-of-living crisis was put on the backburner. Whether that changes before May is out remains to be seen. But for now, it seems that not even a 40-year high inflation rate or the threat of a recession, being talked about by the UK’s biggest high street names and the governor of the Bank of England himself, is putting a dampener on Britons’ new-found spending joy.”

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