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Non-food sector bouncing back

Retail sales rebounded strongly in February after the exceptionally cold weather and the hike in VAT back to 17.5% depressed High Street activity in the first weeks of the year.

The British Retail Consortium said that total retail sales by value were up 4.5% on this time last year, about half of that being accounted for higher volumes and the rest from stronger pricing.

Non-store sales, especially of non-food items via the internet, continue to demonstrate a strong secular trend upwards — 15.5% higher now than in February 2009. They account for around 6% of non-food sales.

However, food sales slowed further after shoppers had stocked up during January's snowy weather. Lower food inflation than had been seen last year and consumer caution also depressed sales.

Non-food purchases were stronger than the average, again having been hit by January's snow, but against an especially weak base last year.

Clothing and footwear showed stronger gains than in January and homewares and furniture returned to growth.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Despite appearances, these results are not that strong.

“Consumer confidence is certainly up on this time last year but, with unemployment rising again, spending plans are falling. When the weather-related distortions are stripped away, it's clear customers are still cautious.”

Belfast Telegraph