(Corrects comparison in paragraph 2 to month on month, not year on year)
LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - British retail sales surged in April as shoppers splashed out on new clothes after shops reopened following months of lockdown closures, official data showed on Friday.
Sales volumes in April jumped 9.2% month on month - twice the average forecast in a Reuters poll of economists - after rising 5.1% in March. Clothing sales soared by almost 70%.
Sterling rose slightly against the U.S. dollar on the latest sign of a robust economic recovery in Britain.
“Fashion retailers (were) the ultimate beneficiaries of beer gardens reopening and the ‘rule of six’ night out returning,” said Aled Jones, head of retail at Lloyds Bank.
Sales volumes were 42.4% higher than a year earlier, when they collapsed during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown, the Office for National Statistics said.
British retail sales are now 10.6% above their level in February 2020, before the pandemic struck, though many retailers have suffered badly from repeated lockdowns that accelerated the shift to online commerce.
Department store Debenhams closed its last store this month after more than 240 years of trading, though the brand name has been bought by online retailer Boohoo.
Retailers such as clothing and furniture stores that the government classed as non-essential were unable to reopen to shoppers in England until April 12, having been forced to close in early January.
Online retail’s share of spending dropped to 30.0% in April from 34.7% in March, its lowest since December.
Bank of England policymakers are keeping a close watch on retail sales, expecting a surge in spending as wealthier households spend savings built up during lockdowns.
However retailers will have to compete with newly reopened pubs and restaurants for a share of disposable income.
Britain’s longest-running survey of consumer sentiment, from GfK, showed earlier on Friday that morale was back at its level of March 2020 before Britain felt the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce Editing by David Goodman)