UK retail sales volumes last month recorded their sharpest year-on-year rise since May 2004, helped by Easter falling later this year, official figures have revealed.
The retail sales figures, published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, were much stronger than forecast.
They showed UK retail sales volumes in April were up 6.9 per cent on the same month of last year. Sales volumes rose by 1.3 per cent month-on-month on a seasonally-adjusted basis in April, more than double the 0.5 per cent increase forecast by the City.
According to the ONS figures, food sales volumes were particularly strong in April, jumping by 3.6 per cent month-on-month. They were up 6.3 per cent on April 2013 - the fastest year-on-year pace of increase since January 2002.
The ONS said: "Feedback from food store retailers suggested that a better-than-expected Easter and better weather conditions helped to boost sales."
Samuel Tombs, UK economist at consultancy Capital Economics, said: "In theory, the ONS takes account of the timing of Easter in its seasonal adjustment. However, food sales volumes have been particularly erratic recently, and so we wouldn't read too much into one month's figures."
Sales volumes in the non-store category, which takes in online sales, leapt by 5.9 per cent month-on-month to stand 25.1 per cent higher than in April 2013.
Textiles, clothing and footwear sales volumes edged up by 0.2 per cent month-on-month in April. And the volume of sales of household goods rose by 0.3 per cent. Department stores achieved a 0.3 per cent month-on-month rise in sales volumes. However, non-food sales dipped 0.4 per cent month-on-month overall in April, reflecting a 2 per cent fall in the "other stores" category.
Mr Tombs said: "The 1.3 per cent monthly rise in retail sales volumes in April indicated that the consumer recovery remained strong at the start of Q2."
But, while relatively upbeat, he flagged the likelihood of a slowing of consumer spending growth.
Mr Tombs said: "With real pay still struggling to rise on a sustained basis, it is doubtful that consumer spending can continue to grow this rapidly.
"Nonetheless, we remain fairly optimistic that a combination of easing inflation and a gradual rise in wages will push up real pay and help the consumer recovery to remain fairly strong over the rest of this year."
British Chambers of Commerce highlighted the need for the UK economy to rebalance, and become less reliant on consumer spending.
David Kern, BCC chief economist, said: "In annual terms, retail sales volumes are expanding at their strongest pace since 2004. This is good news, and supports our belief that the UK economy saw continued growth in the second quarter of this year.
"However, the UK recovery still needs to become more balanced. Although consumer spending should remain an important part of overall growth, exports and investment should make a greater contribution or there is a chance the recovery could stall."