Hot weather boosts July retail sales
Retail sales in the UK jumped by 1.1% in July from the previous month, boosted by hot weather and adding to hopes of a sustained economic recovery.
The rise, reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), was significantly larger than expected.
It means sales are up 3% compared with last year - the fastest annual rise since January 2011.
The retail industry is seen as an indicator of the wider economy and the strength of consumer spending.
The ONS figures are based on a survey of 5,000 retailers around the UK.
Economists said rising sales were a sign of improved sentiment among consumers.
"July's retail sales numbers were decent once again," said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec.
"Part of the reason seems to be the hot weather in July, but nonetheless the trend has been clearly one of an upward climb in sales for quite some time now, so it bodes well for household consumption during the third quarter, and indeed recovery prospects in the economy more generally."Supermarket sales up
The UK economy grew by 0.6% in the second quarter of the year, nearly double the first-quarter growth, but there are indications the recovery will strengthen again in the second half of the year.
On Wednesday, official unemployment figures showed that the number of those out of work is continuing to fall, although by just 4,000.
Meanwhile, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has suggested that interest rates will remain at record lows for the foreseeable future.
The retail figures suggested hot weather in July significantly contributed to the rise in sales.
Supermarkets saw a monthly rise in sales of 2.5% and reported strong sales in barbeque food, outdoor items, clothing and alcohol.
Overall, UK consumers bought a total of £7bn a week in July, up from £6.8bn per week in June.
This rise was partly due to inflation, however. The ONS figures showed the price of goods sold in the retail industry rose by 1.8% over the last year.