Retail Sales Driven Up By Tablet Demand
Electronic goods helped drive up last month's retail sales, which grew at their fastest rate in more than three years, new figures have shown.
Like-for-like retail sales in February were up 2.7% on the previous year - the highest figure since December 2009, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
It said the main "growth engine" of the sector continued to be the 'other non-food' category, which was led by sales of electrical goods including tablets and computers.
Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC, said: "There are certainly highly-welcome signs here of gradual improvement and customers feeling a bit more positive.
"February saw growth across all parts of retailing, with big-ticket goods and items for the home recovering particularly well, possibly reflecting better conditions in the housing market.
"But it's too soon to assume this represents the permanent turnaround we need."
Despite the recent horsemeat scandal in the UK and Europe, underlying food sales were up 1%, the organisation said.
Traces of horsemeat were discovered in frozen burgers, and have since been found in processed beef products and prepared meals across the European Union.
Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of IGD, which provides food data, said: "Although there was a lot of 'switch buying', such as a fall in frozen burger sales in favour of more ingredients to cook from scratch, the overall effect on food and drink sales was neutral."
But the BRC's most recent sales figures are at odds with the latest survey from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
The CBI found that food stores suffered their worst performance for more than five years in February, with sales falling for the first time since last April.
Grocers in particular were hit by freezing weather in the UK after the January snow ensured a difficult start to 2013.
Official figures for January showed that food sales saw the biggest month-on-month fall since May 2011, down 1.6%, as many small grocers were forced to shut up shop.
But the continuing cold weather boosted sales of cold and flu remedies, as well as knitwear last month, according to the BRC.
It said clothes sales grew at the fastest rate for five months, also driven by demand for jackets and casualwear for children.
Valentine's Day perfume demand helped the health and beauty sector post it strongest performance since December 2011, while the improved housing market conditions meant beds and sofas were "standout performers".
David McCorquodale, head of retail at survey partner KPMG, warned that the Budget later this month would be a "pivotal" moment for retailers and if the proposed rise in business rates went ahead retailers would be placed under "inexorable pressure".