The pickup is reaching deeper into the high street, fuelled by demand for electronic goods, while fears of a downturn in the grocery business because of the horse meat scandal have so far proved wide of the mark. Figures released today from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that sales last month rose 2.7pc on a like-for-like basis after stripping out the effects of new shops and expansion and 4.4pc when they are included.
Underlying food sales rose 1pc despite the horse meat scare, although there was a marked change in buying habits, with frozen burgers left on shelves.
A CBI survey was more pessimistic, showing that food shop sales reached a five-year low last month. The BRC survey is more broad-based than sales data released yesterday by the business advisers, BDO, covering 10,000 shops, but both have reflected changes in a high street still charged by a sales atmosphere.
Freezing weather produced a rush for knitwear as well as treatments for cold and flu, but Valentine’s Day resulted in a seasonal diversion, with demand for health and beauty products reaching their highest level since December 2011.
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Big ticket items also benefited, with end of sale promotions helping sofas and beds. Online business rose by a healthy 10pc but electronic goods, led by tablet computers, continued to be the “growth engine” of last month’s trade.