Official data published on Friday showed retail sales rose 1.2 per cent in October, and were 5.8 per cent higher than a year earlier, stronger than all poll forecasts.
However, retailers face a grim November with many shops closed due to the latest restrictions to slow the coronavirus pandemic which has hit Britain harder than other big economies.
Friday’s data show unexpected strength in the retail sector in October, before a four-week COVID lockdown took effect in England this month.
“Feedback from a range of businesses suggesting that consumers had started Christmas shopping earlier this year, further helped by early discounting from a range of stores,” the Office for National Statistics said.
Retailers have bounced back strongly from the lockdown, with sales volumes 6.7 per cent higher than before the pandemic.
Much of the gain has been from online sales, and some sectors such as high-street clothes stores are struggling.
Fashion chains Peacocks and Jaeger fell into administration on Thursday, putting 4,716 jobs at risk.
A Reuters poll found Britain is on course for a double-dip recession as a result of the renewed lockdown measures.
“The question now is whether the retail sector can pull off an equally rapid rebound after this second lockdown,” ING economist James Smith said.
“The answer, we suspect, is mixed.”