[Press Association] A rush of back-to-school and university purchases saw retail sales unexpectedly bounce back last month, official figures showed today.
Retail volumes in September grew 0.6% month-on-month, following a downwardly revised 0.4% drop in August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Household goods stores grew 3.2% month-on-month in September, the strongest growth in 19 months, as schoolchildren and students bought computers and laptops before starting the new academic year.
Economists, who on average forecast flat sales volumes, had expected the September heatwave to hit the month’s performance, but the ONS said this only had a minor impact on clothing, which dropped 0.7%.
The strong September figures will be a boost to recovery hopes, as retail constitutes a significant proportion of the country’s powerhouse services sector.
The retail sector has been badly hit by the consumer squeeze in recent weeks, with companies including Ann Harvey and Kaliko owner Alexon falling into administration.
The ONS said the drop in volumes in riot-hit August was worse than expected, after methodological changes saw the figure downgraded to a 0.4% fall, from a first estimate of a 0.2% decline.
Department stores, such as Debenhams and John Lewis, saw growth of 1.4% in September, driven by back-to-school and university purchases, but also by strong music and video game sales.
Elsewhere, second-hand stores, which can include charity shops and antique dealers, also had a large upward effect, as well as telecoms and stationery.
Food sales were unexpectedly flat as the 28C-plus temperatures at the end of the month had little effect, the ONS said.
But within the food figures the ONS said there was evidence that smaller stores were showing better volume growth than larger stores.
The ONS said additional analysis of petrol forecourt sales showed pump sales rose 17% by value compared to a year ago, while volumes increased only 2.8%, suggesting huge price hikes.
Looking further back, petrol sales have increased 32% by value since 2006, but dropped 10% in volume.
The combined fuel and food figures add to evidence that shoppers are no longer driving to larger supermarkets and are favouring their local, smaller supermarkets or grocers instead.