Retail sales figures published by The Office for National Statistics (ONS) for January 2004 show the year has got off to a flying start as high levels of consumer spending over the Christmas period spilled over into January.

The underlying rate of total retail sales volume growth was 4.5 per cent, stronger than the 3.7 per cent reported in December.

And once again, underlying sales volume growth was strongest amongst
clothing and footwear retailers in January (+7.6 per cent).

Commenting on the figures, Kevin O'Sullivan, director, retail and wholesale sectors at Barclays said: "The good news for retailers is that the growth in sales does not seem to have been at the expense of margins, with many retailers holding their nerve on discounts through the new year.

"Sales naturally dipped towards the end of January as shoppers went back to work. The key test now for retailers is whether consumer confidence will remain strong in a period of rising interest rates and when spring and summer collections need to be sold."