British retailers reported the sharpest upturn in sales since 2018 this month as non-essential began to reopen after months of closure, adding to signs of an economic rebound as COVID restrictions ease, a survey showed on Tuesday.
The Confederation of British Industry said its monthly retail sales volume balance jumped to +20 in April from -45 in March, its highest level since September 2018.
Part of the increase reflected the effect of comparing with a year earlier, when Britain was in the midst of its first, most stringent COVID lockdown.
But a separate measure of sales volumes for the time of year also rebounded strongly to its highest since June 2018 and is expected to remain high in May.
Most economists expect Britain's economy to grow by more than 5% this year after shrinking almost 10% in 2020, the sharpest decline in over 300 years.
Shops in England and Wales selling non-essential goods reopened on April 12 after more than three months of closure, while those in Scotland returned to business on Monday. Northern Irish shops are due to welcome customers back on 30 April.
Official retail sales data showed that sales volumes in March had exceeded pre-crisis levels, reflecting a big shift to online shopping which now accounts for more than a third of spending, up from less than a quarter before the pandemic.
However, the CBI said many high-street stores continued to struggle, especially in hard-hit sectors such as clothing.
"Despite progress along the roadmap, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions are still biting hard," CBI economist Ben Jones said.
"The improvement in retail sales this month was driven by sectors that have performed relatively well during the pandemic, with little immediate rebound expected for more embattled sectors such as clothing, footwear and department stores," he added.
The CBI survey took place between 25 March and 15 April, and covered 60 retail chains.