Retail sales registered a surprising 1.2% rise between July and August, defying the gloomy picture painted by retailers and a variety of surveys of business sentiment.

According to the Office for National Statistics, clothing and footwear drove retail sales higher. But the data are inconsistent with figures from the CBI employers’ group, the Bank of England’s monthly agents’ survey, and anecdotal evidence from retailers, most of whom say they are struggling. The ONS itself noted retail sales data could be very volatile.

Indeed, the Bank’s agents’ survey for August, released this week, showed a drop in retail sales for that month after being flat overall for some time, amid signs that consumers are reining in discretionary spending. The agents reported a drop even in items that had seen strong sales recently, such as electrical goods.

Financial Times