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By Chloe Rigby

Online sales grew strongly in March, as snowstorms and rain combined with changing shopper behaviour to deter visits to high street stores, new figures suggest.

Shoppers spent 13.3% more online in March than they did a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics’ Retail Sales report for the month, which also found that across all retail, when petrol was excluded, shoppers spent 3.2% more in March, buying 1.1% more goods than they did a year earlier. But sales fell by 1.2%, when petrol was included, compared to the previous month, while three month sales were down by 0.5%.

Figures from etail trade association the IMRG found an 18.9% rise in online sales. That’s well ahead of the three month trend of 15.4% growth, and 12-month trend of 12.8% growth.

IMRG put the sales rise down to factors including the snowstorms dubbed the ‘beast from the East’ and the early Easter bank holiday weekend – which led to a 27% spike in sales in the last week of the month. Figures out earlier this week showed that footfall was down by 6% in March.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said: “It’s possible to read this month’s results as a simple story of online continuing to benefit from the decline of the high street – which is nothing new of course, but it may be that we are seeing an acceleration of this as we’ve moved into 2018. At the same time it could just be a blip – Easter falling in March will likely have pushed up online growth (and, by extension, it may come in far lower in April) plus the weather has at times brought heavy snowfall and prolonged rainfall.

“If the strong growth is sustained into April, it would be tempting to…