UK retail sales jumped 1.8% in March, ONS reports

Shoppers at Westfield shopping centre
Image caption Warm weather in March encouraged shoppers

UK retail sales recorded their biggest monthly rise in more than a year in March, driven by the spell of warm weather and panic buying of petrol.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that UK retail sales volumes rose 1.8% last month.

The ONS said warm weather in March had helped to boost sales of clothing, footwear and gardening products.

The rise follows a decline of 0.8% in February, which was blamed on the squeeze felt by consumers.

Over the past three months, sales volumes were up 0.8% compared with the same period last year.

Concern over a shortage of fuel contributed to the rise in March. Fuel sales jumped 4.9% last month as drivers filled their tanks, fearing a strike by fuel tanker drivers.

Consumer crunch

Analysts said that as well as the warm weather, sales were boosted by the timing of Easter.

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Media captionNatalie Berg, Planet Retail: "Ongoing erosion of spending power"

"We have to remember that Easter was early this year so a lot of consumers might have bought their food purchases for Easter early into the month of March," said Natalie Berg, a retail analyst with Planet Retail told the BBC.

But she warned not to read too much into the March report.

"Wage growth is at just 1.4%, so we are still seeing the ongoing erosion of spending power among consumers.

"While the month of March certainly provided a nice boost for retailers it's not really an indication of a broader recovery," she said.

Economists agree that while welcome, the March figures may not have a big impact on economic growth for the first quarter of the year.

"It tells us that the consumer-facing side of the economy has had a reasonable first quarter, and will reinforce expectations that overall services growth will look OK in the first quarter," said Ross Walker, an economist at RBS.

"But construction will be a huge drag on first quarter growth, so I don't think we'll get a great reading, but the underlying picture is a bit better," he said.

David Kern, Chief Economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "While a positive GDP figure will help maintain business confidence, we mustn't be complacent."

"Economic growth in the UK is still too weak and businesses must be empowered to drive the recovery - especially at a time when the public sector is shrinking," he said.

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