This continues the strong performance seen in January after a weak Christmas season. However, there was notable weakness in food sales, which dropped 1.2%, their biggest fall since December 2016.
The Office for National Statistics, which compiles the figures, said unusually warm weather in February had boosted spending, particularly at garden centres and on sporting equipment.
Rhian Murphy, ONS’s head of retail sales, said strong increases in fuel sales and online shopping had also contributed: “Retail sales continued to bounce back in the three months to February with strong increases in fuel sales and online shopping.”
“Food growth slowed, however, due to a significant fall for supermarkets, specialist food and alcohol stores in February after the sales and promotions seen in January came to an end.”
Bucking the longer-term trend, online sales as a proportion of all retailing fell to 17.6% in February 2019 from the 18.8% reported in January 2019; this was a year-on-year increase of 9.4% when compared with February 2018. Within this, online food retailing continued to grow, while non-food saw a decline.
The Centre for Retail Research still shows considerable weakness among high street retailers. Overall, 43 retailers failed in 2018 and a further 15 have already gone bust in 2019. That affects 46,000 and 2,700 employees respectively. Shoe giant LK Bennett has been the most recent high profile failure.