LONDON, June 20 (Reuters) - British retail sales rebounded much more than expected in May, lifted by discounting at supermarkets and online shopping, official data showed on Thursday.
The Office for National Statistics said sales volumes grew 2.1 percent on the month, after a 1.1 percent drop in April - the sharpest fall in a year. May's rise was well above economists' forecasts for a 0.8 percent increase and the biggest since February.
Compared with a year earlier, sales rose 1.9 percent, again the fastest increase since February.
The figures are the latest in a string of signs that British economic growth is gathering pace in the second quarter.
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said late on Wednesday that a slow recovery appeared underway, although adequate growth was not yet assured and the economy still needed more support from the central bank.
Sales of food grew by 3.5 percent from April, the strongest pace in two years, as supermarkets offered promotions to lure cash-strapped shoppers.
Non-store retailing, including online, grew by 4.3 percent and overall retail sales also bounced back from a poor showing in April, when unseasonably cool weather dented demand, the ONS said.
Consumers' willingness to spend will largely determine whether the British economy can build on recent evidence of a recovery and achieve solid growth after two years of stagnation.
The ONS said retail sales excluding fuel rose 2.1 percent both on the month and on the year, compared with economists' forecasts for rises of 0.9 percent and 0.5 percent respectively.
The British Retail Consortium, which represents larger stores, had previously reported a strong 3.4 percent rise in retail sales values for May, though May retail figures from the Confederation of British Industry were weak.