On a monthly basis sales contracted 2.2% in February and were up 6.9% in the three months to February compared with the same period a year ago, also at constant prices.
Economists polled by Reuters expected sales at 4.8% in February.Economists polled by Reuters expected sales at 4.8% in February.
Nedbank economist Johannes Khosa said while the figure was good news, retail sales were not expected to keep the growth momentum during the course of the year, given the rise in prices, especially petrol.
Retail sales growth averaged 6.1% last year compared with 5.1% in 2010, creeping up in the last half of 2011.
Analysts expect low interest rates to continue supporting sales growth in 2012 with the consumption components of GDP driving growth.
Consumer spending boosted economic growth in the third and fourth quarters of 2011 as demand-related sectors grew. The central bank has left interest rates at three-decade lows of 5.5% to help boost economic growth.
However, unemployment is at about 25% and this may hamper robust sales growth. Rising fuel and food costs may also mean consumers will be tighter with their purse strings.