Clothes spending aids sales growth
Consumers maintained their appetite for spending last month after official figures showed clothing stores enjoyed their best growth in three years.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes rose 0.1% in March on the prior month, much better than the City's forecast for a 0.4% fall.
The growth follows a rise of 1.3% in February and included a 3.1% month-on-month jump in clothing and footwear sales - the largest rise since April 2011 - as stores reaped the benefit of a warmer-than-usual spring.
Across non-food shops, sales were 9.6% higher than the same month a year earlier as today's figures compared with very cold weather in 2013.
In contrast, food retailers continued to struggle as a 2.3% decline in sales represented the largest year-on-year decrease since last April.
Today's figures meant retail sales growth of 0.8% in the first quarter of the year, fuelling hopes that Tuesday's first estimate of GDP will show growth of 0.8%.
And with average pay rises outstripping CPI inflation for the first time in four years, economists are confident of further momentum in consumer spending.
Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, said : "I f we are right in expecting inflation to fall further and stay low, while wages growth picks up further, the consumer recovery should receive more fundamental support over the coming quarters."