Retail sales turned in a better-than-expected performance in March, supported by an improvement in general dealers, data from Stats SA showed on Wednesday. 

Sales rose 2.7% year on year compared with an increase of 1.9% in February. The better-than-expected improvement in sales follows a rise in panic buying in March ahead of the implementation of the national lockdown on March 27.

The March print is better than economist expectations for a 1.9% rise, according to a Bloomberg forecast. Stats SA said general dealers were the biggest contributors to the increase in March adding 5.2 percentage points. 

General dealers saw a record increase of 11.6% in March and retailers in pharmaceuticals and medical goods, cosmetics and toiletries rose by 13.9%. 

 Food, beverages and tobacco retailers grew by just 0.1%. Textiles and clothing retailers dropped by 14.3% and those specialising in  household goods  recorded a 10% decline in March. 

Seasonally adjusted retail sales rose 2.3% month on month compared with a contraction 0.3% in February.