Shopkeepers have made a far better start to the Christmas selling season than many of them had feared.
Official numbers yesterday confirmed anecdotal evidence that retail sales have been picking up strongly after a late summer pause. A seasonally adjusted 0.7 per cent increase in the volume of sales between October and November was the strongest monthly improvement since June and the fourth month running that sales have gained ground.
November is usually the second most important month of the year for retailers, after December.
The month's sales were 2.15 per cent higher than those in November last year, National Statistics reported - the highest annual year-on-year gain since February and well up on a 1.5 per cent gain in October.
Reports suggesting that Internet shopping has been draining huge quantities of business away from conventional stores are not borne out by the official findings.
These show that although "non-store retailing and repair" sales - which include the Internet's contribution - rose by 1.1 per cent in November they were still fractionally down in volume terms on November last year.
Lower prices for many items sold on the Internet by four per cent from November last year, while that of retailing from all sources was 0.9 per cent higher.
These generally robust numbers may well diminish expectations that the Bank of England will cut the cost of borrowing again in the coming months.
November's improvement was very widely spread. the only exceptions were household goods and "other" stores, including booksellers, stationers and toy shops.
But November's setback from October was marginal for household goods and November was still their third best month this year after January and October.
At "other" stores, sales fell by 1.4 per cent on the month -but that still left them 1.15 per cent up on November last year.
Sales in food stores rose by 0.5 per cent from October to a level 1.1 per cent ahead of November last year.
Those in non-food shops registered a 0.8 per cent increase on the month and a 1.9 per cent gain over the year. Clothing and footwear stores had a particularly good November, recovering by a powerful 3.6 per cent after a setback in October blamed on the warm, dry start to the autumn. That was their biggest monthly gain since August, 2004.
On a broader basis, NS said retail sales in the three months to November were a full percentage point higher than in June/August, again adjusted seasonally. That was the highest gain on a three-monthly comparison since August, 2004.
Compared with the same months a year ago, sales volumes in the September and November were 1.3 per cent higher, against a 0.9 per cent increase for the year in the three months to October.
NS said its "implied deflator" for November retail prices as a whole have fallen by 1.1 per cent over the year.