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Online stays steady as high street sees its strongest sales growth for three years

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High street retailers enjoyed their strongest growth for three years in February while online sales grew by a less significant 10.9%, according to surprise new figures.

The value of like-for-like retail sales grew by 2.7% in February, while total sales were up by 4.4%, the British Retail Consortium’s BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor for February 2013 showed today. The BRC says that total sales grew at their fastest rate since the 4.5% recorded in February 2010. Like-for-like sales grew at their fastest since December 2009.

But online sales showed less significant growth, with a 10.9% rise in February compared to the same time last year. Last February online sales rose by 9.9% on the previous year, while total UK retail sales values grew by 2.3% and like-for-like sales were down by 0.3%.

Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC, said the figures were “highly-welcome signs of gradual improvement and customers feeling a bit more positive.” She said sales of big-ticket goods and homewares had fared particularly well during the month, which may reflect better housing market conditions. However, she added, “It’s too soon to assume this represents the permanent turnaround we need.”

She described online sales growth as “solid,” and in line with the previous month and the annual average, as consumers bought during clearance time. Multichannel retailers enjoyed strong click and collect sales, thanks to the convenience of picking up at a convenient time. Meanwhile, the BRC reported comments that some retailers had said mobile continued to grow fast but from a small base.

“Clothing was a stand-out performer in February,” said Dickinson. “The signs are that customers seized the chance to stock up on end-of-season promotions while also resonding well to new ranges. Health and beauty was another strong category, boosted by a Valentine’s rush for gifts, fragrances and cosmetics.”

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said the figures would boost retailer confidence: “Against all expectations, retail sales rose this month to achieve the strongest underlying sales growth for three eyars. Relatively dry, if cold, weather and the occasional day of spring sunshine helped to lift clothing sales as well as drive footfall in the general direction of the department stores, with non-food and furnishing and flooring categories showing strong performances.”

Food and drink sales were “sluggish”, with like-for-like sales up by just one per cent in the three months to the end of February. Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of the IGD, said the sector had stood up well against intense scrutiny in February, when the horsemeat scandal erupted. “Although there was a lot of switch buying, such as a fall in frozen burger sales in favour of more ingredients to cook from scratch, the overall effect on food and drink sales was neutral,” she said. “This is a good opportunity for British producers with more people becoming more interested in the origin of their food. Nearly eight in 10 (78% of) shoppers say it’s important whether or not their food comes from Britain, up from 55% who said the same six years ago.”

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