Retail sales jump following January discounts

Retail sales were healthier than expected in January with a 3.2% total rise – the largest since May.

In the first disclosure of separate food and non-food like for like sales by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), food sales picked up by 5.5% compared to last year, after a slower December to show the best growth since June, and remained the main driver of overall sales.

However, some of the growth reflected higher food prices. The very cold weather drove sales of casserole meats and roasting joints, sausages and comfort foods, according to the BRC.

Non-food sales were down 1.6% compared to last year, despite heavy discounting in January, although analysts have singled out clothing as a “relative winner” as it experienced its “smallest sales drop for several months”.

Casualwear often did better than formal, but designer ranges held up for some, while handbags, jewellery and hair accessories were popular clearance buys and knitwear, hats, scarves and gloves benefited from the very cold weather, according to the BRC.

Meanwhile, although electrical sales were slightly up in January compared to December, the sector continues to be viewed as weak by analysts as consumers are sticking to replacement buys rather than upgrades or switching to emerging technology.

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