By Ian McConnell

RETAIL sales volumes in Great Britain in October recorded their first monthly rise since April, official figures show, with early buying of Christmas presents by consumers worried about shortages cited widely as a likely reason.

The retail sector had received a boost in April from the reopening of “non-essential” stores amid the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions.

Data published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics showed retail sales volumes rose by 0.8 per cent month-on-month in October on a seasonally adjusted basis. This overall increase was achieved even though petrol sales tumbled following heavy buying of fuel in September amid shortages.

Non-food stores was the only main retail sector which saw a rise in sales volumes in October, with a 4.2% month-on-month increase.

The ONS cited strong growth in sales for the likes of second-hand stores, toy shops and sports equipment outlets.

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It also flagged a 6.2% month-on-month rise in clothing store sales. The ONS added that clothing stores’ sales volumes in October were only 0.5% below pre-pandemic levels in February 2020, “with some retailers suggesting that early Christmas trading had boosted sales”.

Excluding automotive fuel, retail sales volumes rose 1.6% month-on-month in October. Automotive fuel sales fell by 6.4% during October.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “Much of this increased spend will be accounted for by the pull forward of Christmas shopping spend that we predicted…with shoppers particularly concerned about goods shortages and delayed deliveries. This is particularly important this year, as consumers have told us that they are determined to make Christmas extra special after the disappointment of cancelled plans during last year’s tier restrictions and lockdowns.”

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The ONS said that retail sales volumes had been flat month-on-month in September, having estimated previously they had fallen by 0.2%.

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "There are signs Christmas has come early for retailers with many shoppers not waiting until Hallowe'en was over before hitting stores, spooked by warnings that some gifts and toys could be in short supply this year. The data also seems to show the squeeze on incomes is already being felt with shoppers keen to sniff out a bargain in charity shops and on auction sites. Sales volumes in second hand goods stores accounted for a big chunk of the 7.2% rise in volumes in other non-food stores."