Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 10:51 UK

UK retail sales pick up in March

Leadenhall Market in London.
Food and clothes sales are up, but sales of household goods are down

Sales in the UK's shops and stores rose in March, after falling sharply in February, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Retail sales volumes in March were 0.3% higher than in February when sales fell by 2%. Sales in March were 1.5% higher than a year ago.

The volume of sales in the first three months of the year was just 0.9% up on the previous three months.

Sales of household goods continued to slump but food and clothes sales rose.

Sales volume for food stores rose by 0.6% from February to March, and by 1.3% compared with a year earlier.

Weather factor

The ONS said that the better weather in March - it was the driest March in England and Wales since 2003 - also brought people out shopping.

The underlying trend appears to be softening
Howard Archer, IHS Global Insight economist

A changing wardrobe meant that within non-food stores, sales volumes for textile, clothing and footwear rose by 8.4% in March compared with the same month a year earlier.

Inactivity in the housing market was probably behind the dipping sales of furniture and lighting, although DIY sales held up.

Sales in non-specialised stores, such as department stores fell by 1.1% in March compared with a year earlier and have now fallen in nine out of the past 10 months.

Internet sales in March accounted for 3.4% of total retail sales, with the average weekly value up from £167m in February to about £172m in March.

In general the underlying trend "appears to be softening", according to IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer.

The figures brought some modest cheer on the same day as ONS figures revealed the UK economy shrank 1.9% in the first three months of 2009.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figure was much worse than the expected contraction of about 1.5% and followed the decline of 1.6% in the previous three-month period.

The ONS cautioned that the GDP figure was only its preliminary estimate and could be revised.

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