Retail sales in Britain rose for the fifth month in a row after they were boosted by non-food items such as DIY and garden supplies, official figures revealed today.
Sales volumes rose by 1.5 per cent between August and September, which was almost twice the size of the previous month's increase of 0.8 per cent.
The Office for National Statistics data released this morning also revealed that sales are now 5.5 per cent higher than those seen in February, before the pandemic.
This graph shows how total retail sales volumes (displayed for the past three years) continued to increase for the fifth consecutive month following the sharp falls seen in February
Retail sales volumes are also now 4.7 per cent higher than a year earlier, taking the annual rate of increase above all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists.
The ONS data also revealed that in the three months to September, retail sales volumes increased by 17.4 per cent when compared to the previous three months.
This made it the biggest quarterly increase on record as sales picked up from record-low levels experienced earlier in the year, according to the statisticians.
However, fuel sales volumes last month were still 8.6 per cent below February with reduced travel as many continued to work from home.
The proportion of online spending peaked in lockdown and is still higher than in February
Clothing sales volumes were also still 12.7 per cent below February, but home improvement sales continued to do well in September.
The latter were boosted by increased sales in household goods and garden items within 'other' non-food stores.
The proportion of online sales was at 27.5 per cent, compared with 20.1 per cent in February, despite small monthly declines across most of the retail sector.
Jonathan Athow, the ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said: 'Retail sales increased again in September, the fifth consecutive month of growth since the record falls seen at the start of the pandemic.
Last month, fuel was the only negative contribution to the overall recovery in retail sales when compared with February, according to data from the Office for National Statistics
'Food stores and online retailers have fared particularly well in recent months, and most other store types have now recovered to pre-pandemic levels too after being subject to temporary closures during restrictions in the spring. Spending on home improvement and gardening items in particular have boosted sales.
'Clothing store sales have been slower to recover and fuel sales remain subdued as people continue to work from home and have reduced the amount they travel.'
Strong household demand has been the mainstay of Britain's recovery from the initial shock of the coronavirus lockdown, when output contracted by 20 per cent, more than in any other major advanced economy.
Emma-Lou Montgomery, associate director for personal investing at Fidelity International, said: 'Whether this new-found and much-needed consumer trend continues, remains to be seen - especially as more of the UK enters tight local restrictions and more jobs are put at risk.'
Household goods stores and other non-food stores increased to above February levels within total non-food stores
She added: 'As we edge closer to typically the busiest shopping period of the year, with Black Friday a month away, retailers, across all sectors and in store and online, will be hoping that festive cheer will drum up enough business to help them through to 2021.'
Britain's economy is set to record a rapid rebound for the third quarter, but rising coronavirus restrictions are damaging consumer morale and weighing on the broader economy.
Thomas Pugh of Capital Economics said: 'Total consumer spending will probably start to stutter over the next few months as the furlough scheme ends and unemployment rises, despite the increased generosity of the Job Support Scheme.'
British consumer sentiment fell this month by the most since a slump at the start of the coronavirus pandemic as lockdown restrictions tightened across the UK.