UK retail sales increased for the fifth consecutive month in September, boosted by an uptick in non-essential categories according to official figures.

Between August and September UK retail sales jumped up 1.5%, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The increase was nearly double the previous month’s 0.8% increase and meant that sales are now 5.5% higher than those seen during pre-pandemic levels in February. 

The ONS data showed that the three months to September saw the biggest increase in retail sales on record, up 17.4% when compared with the previous quarter. 

While supermarkets and food sales did lead the charge - sales of non-food categories as a whole were down 1.7% on pre-pandemic levels - the ONS noted upticks in Home and DIY sales as particularly strong. 

“While food sales have done well in recent months as people have eaten out less, non-food store sales have now made a recovery at 1.7% above their February levels,” the ONS said.

“Home improvement sales continued to do well in September, with increased sales in household goods and garden items within ‘other’ non-food stores.”

The proportion of online sales was at 27.5%, compared with 20.1% reported in February.

While the figures could be interpreted as good news for retailers in the run up to Christmas, the spectre of more areas of the country being plunged into either tier 3 restrictions, or even full lockdowns like in the Republic of Ireland and Wales, has analysts concerned. 

“There’s no doubting that UK consumers have been doing their bit to boost the economy, following a quarter of record retail sales growth,” said Accenture UK and Ireland head of retail, Lynda Petherick. 

“This should be a time for excitement as the crucial ‘golden quarter’ for retail is now underway. However, with lockdown measures across the UK tightening by the day, retailers are braced for a difficult and unconventional end to the year.”

The British Retail Consortium also warned that retail recovery remained at risk from coronavirus restrictions. 

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “The retail recovery remains fragile as the industry enters the all-important Christmas period, with November and December typically accounting for over a fifth of annual sales. While food and online retail continued to show strong growth, high street shopping has struggled in recent months, with footfall still down by over a third. Tighter government restrictions have taken their toll on fashion and beauty sales, while home office and computing equipment has benefitted.”