Official figures show the biggest quarterly leap on record for retail sales, as the sector battles back from the coronavirus lockdown amid renewed restrictions.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a 17.4% jump in volumes in the third quarter of the year covering July to September.
The wider figures were much stronger than analysts had expected given continued consumer caution in the tough economy that has led to a surge in unemployment and pressure on wage growth for those in work.
The data showed sales excluding fuel purchases rose by 1.6% in September from August, leaving them 6.4% higher when compared to the same month in 2019.
The ONS said supermarkets led the charge as people were eating out less – with non-food sales 1.7% above their pre-pandemic level in February.
The proportion of online sales in the total mix stood at almost 28% in September compared to 20% in February.
The news will be welcome for a sector that has been among those to feel the worst of the pain in the crisis to date, according to a Sky News jobs tracker.
Industry figures, however, suggest that discounting in many sectors – to lure shoppers to spend – will hit bottom lines.
ONS deputy national statistician for economic statistics, Jonathan Athow, said of the current trends: “Retail sales increased again in September, the fifth consecutive month of growth since the record falls seen at the start of the pandemic.
“Food stores and online retailers have fared particularly well in recent months, and most other store types have now recovered to pre-pandemic levels too after being subject to temporary closures during restrictions in the spring.
“Spending on home improvement and gardening items in particular have boosted sales.
“Clothing store sales have been slower to recover and fuel sales remain subdued as people continue to work from home and have reduced the amount they travel.”