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Retail sales show surprise improvement

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Retail sales registered an unexpected rise in March, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has reported that sales volumes climbed by 0.2 per cent last month.

Analysts has been anticipating a lower figure, following a 0.9 per cent fall in sales during February.

Stronger food sales and non-store retailing helped to boost the level of sales.

For non-store sales, purchases were up by 0.6 per cent compared with February and by 13.1 per cent compared with a year ago. This reflects the ongoing move towards online and electronic sales. The ONS said that internet sales now represent 9.8 per cent of sales outside of fuel.

Economists had been predicting a slide of 0.5 per cent in overall month-on-month retail figures.

However, analysts pointed out that consumers are still experiencing real pressures on the disposable income available to them, the consequence of a stubbornly high rate of inflation and very moderate wage increases.

Consumer spending for the first quarter of the year rose by just 0.3 per cent compared with the last quarter of 2010.