Retail sales in February have excelled forecasts with a 3.7% increase in volumes on the same period last year and a 1.7% rise since January.

As further evidence of recovery in the sector, the three-month on previous three-month movement in volumes increased 1.6%, recording twelve consecutive months of growth. It marks the longest period of growth in sales since November 2007, figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reveal.

Economists had expected retail sales to improve, but only by 0.5% in February and 2.5% on the year.

February volumes were pushed up by a 7.9% jump in non-store retailing while food stores increased by 2.1%.

February retail values increased 3.5% against last year driven by food stores and non-store retailing but with the largest contribution came from non-food stores. The amount spent totalled £26.2bn against the £31.8bn spent in January.

But prices deflated 0.2% in February, the first deflation in prices since September 2009, which was largely driven by low fuel prices deflating 4.4%.

UK head of retail at Deloitte Ian Geddes said: “The outlook remains positive and further forecast declines in the rate of inflation combined with lower tax for consumers announced by the Chancellor in his latest Budget should continue to support a revival of consumers’ spending power”.”

Within the overall figures, different sectors showed significantly varied performances. Homewares retailers recorded an increase compared with last year, as more promising signs from the housing market emerge, while clothing and footwear growth slowed.

Geddes added: “Recent trading statements have highlighted the polarisation of the retail market and we expect this pattern to continue. Broadly speaking non-food retailers have benefitted from strong growth in demand as the consumer recovery gathers momentum.

“However, the clothing and footwear category suffered a setback in February with smaller businesses and footwear specialists suffering a decline in sales.”

Online sales continue to outstrip overall store sales, showing a 12.4% increase compared with February 2013 and a 2.4% lift on January’s figure.

Barclays head of retail & wholesale Richard Lowe said: “Today’s figures continue to show growth, with the strong housing market contributing to sales of home ware products. However, the wet weather in February will have taken its toll on the high street, as many people preferred to shop online.

“Looking ahead, I expect modest growth to continue, with retailers looking forward to the important Easter trading period next month.”