British shoppers have notched up the fastest quarterly growth in online retail sales on record, in the latest sign of the shifting trends fuelling the decline of the high street.
The Office for National Statistics said the amount of goods sold outside of bricks-and-mortar stores increased by 9.4% in the three months to April, the strongest growth of any quarter since comparable records began in June 1988.
The internet spending boom was fuelled by online promotions and warmer weather over the past three months after the hottest February on record and a sunny Easter weekend.
Clothing sales were the main driver of growth as consumers updated their spring wardrobes. Online-only retailers make up the majority of sales within non-stores, with fashion items the most popular purchases.
Elsewhere, sales continued to fall at department stores, reflecting the gloom on the high street. Online retailing accounted for 18.7% of total sales in April, up from 17.7% a year ago.
The data comes amid growing concerns for the high street, with major retailers announcing store closures and job cuts over the past year. This week the Topshop owner Sir Philip Green unveiled plans to close 23 UK stores with the loss of 520 jobs as part of a rescue plan for his Arcadia retail empire, which also includes Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Wallis, Evans and Burton.
Total sales across the high street and online were flat in April month on month, beating forecasts made by City economists for a drop in sales of 0.3% amid the political turmoil of Brexit – a sign that British consumers have generally shrugged off the uncertainty.
Lisa Hooker of accountants PwC said: “Record temperatures over the Easter weekend definitely got consumers spending, with April sales up by 4.6% versus last year, excluding fuel.
“This is reflected in our own consumer sentiment survey, which showed that confidence had an uptick this spring and has not been dented by Brexit concerns.”