Overall sales for food stores were much more stable, at 0.3% down by volume, and the ONS said that the fall in drink and tobacco was probably due to more spending in pubs and restaurants.

The lower sales volume been widely attributed to caution induced by inflation.

Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, head of retail at business consultants Deloitte, said: “February’s subdued retail sales reflect declining consumer confidence as price increases continue to erode consumer spending power.

“The rising cost of energy, food and fuel saw sales values rise 0.7% month on month.

“At the same time, sales volumes fell 0.3% over the same period, a sign that some consumers have started to buy less in response to growing inflationary pressures.

“Meanwhile, a decline in food sales was also driven by a return to socialising, as some consumers went back to restaurants and bars following the lifting of all restrictions.”

Silvia Rindone, retail lead at accountancy giant EY in the UK & Ireland, said:

“Looking ahead, we expect a slowdown in spend.

“Inflation driven by the post-pandemic recovery continues to accelerate and is set to climb higher on the back of a number of factors, including the economic impact of the war in Ukraine.

“Consumers are expecting a difficult time in the months ahead and are making considered decisions about how to spend their money.

“In response, retailers need to make sure they are offering excellent value for money – landing clear and obvious messages and making it known that they’re on their customers’ side.”

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