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Retail sales surge in March as Brits start spending

Written by: Emma Lunn
There are encouraging signs for the high street as the easing of lockdown restrictions unleashes pent-up shopping demand.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed sales volumes rose by 5.4% in March from February. Sales were 1.6% higher than February 2020 before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Non-food stores provided the largest positive contribution to the monthly growth in March 2021 sales volumes, aided by strong increases of 17.5% and 13.4% in clothing stores and other non-food stores respectively.

Automotive fuel retailers also reported strong monthly growth of 11.1% as travel restrictions were eased towards the end of the reporting period.

Alastair George, chief investment strategist at Edison Group, said: “UK retail sales for March have come in well above expectations this morning as the economy started to re-open, with non-food stores providing the largest contribution. We believe the UK’s ‘re-opening’ investment theme has further to run, and should continue to benefit operators of retail stores, leisure and entertainment venues over the summer.”

Ayush Ansal, chief investment officer at Crimson Black Capital, said: “Spending has been restricted for so long but March saw the chains finally come off. Stronger retail sales volumes in March, with clothing leading from the front, suggest people were preparing for post-lockdown life and things returning to a relative normal.

“For much of the past year, clothing has been an understandable drag on sales, as no nights out means there’s no need to buy new outfits and sitting on your sofa watching Netflix doesn’t result in wear and tear.

“Though things are looking up for now, we shouldn’t forget that government support packages are still keeping millions of people in jobs and when that support is withdrawn non-essential retail could suffer. If unemployment starts to rise materially, the feel-good factor that is currently out there could evaporate very quickly.”

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