Falling Covid cases and relaxed restrictions gave a 1.9 percent January sales boost – 3.6 percent above pre-2020 levels. It followed a four percent fall in December, when shoppers stayed home in the run-up to Christmas as Omicron cases spread, the Office for National Statistics figures showed. Darren Morgan, ONS economic statistics director, said: “Retail sales rebounded in January with their biggest monthly rise since the shops reopened last spring.”
Garden centres, department and household goods stores were particular winners, as well as furniture and lighting shops.
Mr Morgan said that meant the proportion of online sales dropped to its lowest level since March 2020, while an increase in road traffic helped push fuel sales up from December.
As experts estimated families saved about £617 a month during lockdowns, Nationwide building society reported household spending on holidays and travel rocketed 379 percent in January, compared with last year.
Spending on airline travel was up 408 percent and cruises surged 899 percent. Nationwide analysed nearly 200 million debit and credit card and direct debit transactions made last month.
Mark Nalder, from Nationwide, said the booking of holidays, airline travel and cruises is playing a big role in rising spending levels as consumers start 2022 in a positive frame of mind.
But he said the cost-of-living crunch was also taking its toll. January figures showed a 26 percent rise on December in spending on utilities and bills.
But that is up nearly 10 percent on the same month last year.
There was also more money spent in January on paying existing debts, such as credit card bills. Mr Nalder says he expects even more cash to be splashed in February, as the return to offices “boosts spending in areas such as travel, eating and drinking and leisure and recreation”.
However, motoring experts have warned record fuel price rises mean high streets are losing out on about £375million every month.
The AA says money that could boost stores’ recovery from the pandemic has instead been “diverted” to forecourts.
Average pump prices jumped to record highs this week, with petrol now 26.76p a litre more than a year ago, the AA Fuel Price Report, released today, reveals.
Petrol averaged 148.60p a litre on Wednesday, while diesel reached 152.05p. A year ago, petrol averaged 121.84p and diesel 124.91p.
It means the cost of filling up a petrol car with a typical 55-litre tank is now £81.73, compared with £67.01 last year.
Diesel drivers with an 80-litre tank now pay £121.64 for a fill-up, compared to £99.93 a year ago. Luke Bosdet, of the AA, said: “Motorists have had to take shelter from storms this week but they will be buffeted by record pump prices long after.
“The difference is that there is little protection from pump prices that are at least 25p a litre more expensive than a year ago.”
He added: “The effect of the Ukraine crisis on oil prices is the major cause of current woes, but that shouldn’t hide the impact of the UK’s pump price lottery.
“Supermarket prices are varying by more than 8p a litre across mainland UK.”