Retail sales rose by 1.4% in November, lifted above their pre-pandemic level by an increase in sales at clothing stores and computer stores.
Volumes were 7.2% higher last month than February 2020 levels, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), indicating a bounce back from the lows of the pandemic.
Non-food stores saw sales rise by 2.0%, driven by a 2.9% growth in clothing stores and 2.8% increase in other non-food stores such as computer stores, toy stores and jewellery stores.
Retailers pointed to Black Friday and Christmas shopping for the bump in sales, with clothing stores above pre-coronavirus levels for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.
Fuel sales increased in November by 3.7% following two months of supply disruptions, although this was still some 1.9% below February 2020 levels.
“Retail sales picked up in November, boosted by strong Black Friday and pre-Christmas trading,” said Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys and economic indicators at the ONS.
“Clothing stores fared particularly well and have exceeded their pre-pandemic level for the first time. Computer, toy, and jewellery retailers also reported robust sales this month.”
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But with the jump in sales, fewer people were shopping online than at the height of the pandemic.
The proportion of retail sales online fell to 26.9% in November 2021, its lowest proportion since March 2020 and a continuation of a falling trend since its peak at 36.8% in February 2021.
“With more consumers choosing to visit the high street and retail parks, the proportion of online sales continued on a downward trend, to their lowest level since March 2020,” Ms Bovill added.
Businesses were urging the government this week not to further tighten restrictions in the build-up to Christmas.
Currys has revealed a pre-Christmas sales sales slowdown as supply chain strains hit the availability of some products and Omicron uncertainty threatens to further dampen demand.
Shares in the electricals-to-mobile phone retailer fell 9% on the update as the business became the latest to highlight the impact of latest fears over the new variant.
Wetherspoons has said it could slip to a half-year loss and, together with the CBI, has warned of the prospect of a “lockdown by stealth”.
Shoppers have to wear face coverings in shops, shopping centres and on public transport in England once again to contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.