Shoes and supermarket goods topped people's shopping lists in January as the Lunar New Year holiday and an influx of mainland visitors helped lift retail sales by 7.4 per cent in value, the biggest year-on-year increase in five months. The value of total retail sales reached HK$27.5 billion in January compared with HK$25.3 billion in December, when sales were up just 1.1 per cent. By volume, January's sales rose 5.4 per cent, reversing a 0.5 per cent decline in December, according to the Census and Statistics Department. A government spokesman said efforts to promote inbound tourism from the mainland should help boost the retail trade amid the global downturn. The number of mainland visitors soared 31.3 per cent in January to over 1.89 million and accounted for more than two-thirds of the total, Tourism Board data showed. Sales of many popular Lunar New Year-related products recorded healthy growth in January. Footwear sales were up 17.2 per cent in volume, supermarket goods were up 15.7 per cent, electrical goods recorded a 15.1 per cent increase, department store products rose 9.9 per cent, and apparel was up 8.1 per cent. Although sales of fuel were up 8 per cent, car sales continued to fall, plunging 36.3 per cent. The steep year-on-year decline is a reflection of worsening consumer appetite for big-ticket items like new cars as shoppers conserve cash in the financial crisis. The belt-tightening also resulted in a one-third drop in spending on outbound travel in January. Another decline of more than 20 per cent was expected for February, Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said. 'It should be noted that the increase in January 2009 was attained against a high base of comparison in January 2008, when retail sales volume rose by 17.8 per cent year on year. This indicates that consumer sentiment has held fairly firm in recent months despite the adverse external environment,' the spokesman said. A clearer picture of consumer spending will emerge once February's sales data is available. Sales for the first two months of a year are usually evaluated together to net out any distortive effects of the Lunar New Year holiday. Preliminary data collected from members of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association found business generally down or flat last month. Caroline Mak Sui-king, the association's chairwoman, said sales were very likely to shrink this month and in April. Retailers usually experience a lull following the Lunar New Year. 'Consumer sentiment has been on a roller-coaster ride,' Ms Mak said. 'Last year, retail sales in March were not bad, increasing 20 per cent in value. I think it would be difficult to grow from such a high base of comparison.' Banks imposing tighter credit card limits and increased bankruptcies would also hurt retail sales in the coming months, Ms Mak warned.