UK retail sales picked up pace in November as shoppers hit the high street for early Christmas shopping and Black Friday, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes increased by 1.4% for the month, accelerating from a 0.8% increase in October.
The reading was better than expected, with analysts having forecast that growth would remain steady at 0.8%.
The ONS said sales volumes across the sector were now 7.2% higher than their pre-pandemic levels from February 2020.
November was boosted by non-food sales in stores, which lifted by 2% for the month.
It highlighted that this was particularly boosted by 2.9% growth in sales at clothing stores, which saw sales surpass pre-pandemic levels for the first time.
The latest data also showed that motor fuel sales increased by 3.7% in November following disruption to supplies in the two previous months, although volumes are still 1.9% below pre-pandemic levels.
Our latest data show retail sales volumes rose by an estimated 1.4% in November 2021 compared with October 2021.
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) December 17, 2021
Meanwhile, sales in food stores dipped by 0.2% for the month.
The ONS said the proportion of retail sales which were online moved back to 26.9% in November, as it slid back again to its lowest proportion since March last year.
Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys and economic indicators at the ONS, said: “Retail sales picked up in November, boosted by strong Black Friday and pre-Christmas trading.
“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.
“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.”
Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said: “Pleasingly, almost every category of retail benefited, with even the hardest hit sectors such as fashion powering ahead of pre-pandemic levels.
“In fact, the only slowdown was online, which saw its share of overall retail decline, as shoppers returned to retail parks and high streets.
“But a month is a long time in retail.
“The worst that high streets had to contend with in November was the aftermath of Storm Arwen.
“By the beginning of December, the effects of the Omicron variant had begun to impact across the UK, and footfall has already begun to drop in city centres as shoppers heed advice to work from home and reduce household mixing.”