Shoppers ignore Brexit chaos as UK retail sales show surprise jump | Business

Britain’s consumers ignored the turmoil at Westminster last month and splashed out in high street stores and online.

Despite fears that spending would plummet as a result of mounting Brexit uncertainty, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed retail sales were up 1.1% in March.

The ability of consumers to shrug off political events surprised the City, which had been predicting a 0.3% monthly drop in spending.

Retail sales

The year-on-year rise in retail sales between March 2018 and March 2019 of 6.7% was the highest since October 2016, although the annual comparison was distorted by last year’s “beast from the east” cold snap.

Last month’s unexpectedly strong activity meant that sales in the first quarter – a better guide to the underlying trend – increased by 1.6% on the final three months of 2018.

The ONS said all categories of retail spending apart from department stores and household goods rose in the three months to March. Only department stores – affected by problems at House of Fraser and Debenhams – were down over the past 12 months.

Internet spending was especially evident in March and accounted for 18.6% of all the goods and services purchased, the ONS said.

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Its head of retail sales, Rhian Murphy, said:“Retail sales increased in the three months to March, following sustained growth throughout the first three months of the year. March’s mild weather boosted sales, with food shops also recovering after a weak February.

“Over the longer term, department stores were the only shop type to see their sales shrink.”

Retail spending has been bolstered in recent months by the lowest unemployment rate in 44 years and by wages growing at a faster annual rate than prices. Spending on household goods has been depressed by the lack of turnover in the property market.

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