The unusual warm weather in March has helped drive UK retail sales values up by 1.3%, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Compared to last year when figures had declined by 3.5%, overall, this March saw a 3.6% rise in total sales, against a 1.9% decline in 2011. Food sales growth has remained steady and unchanged since February, while non-food items saw improvement. This included online, mail-order and phone sales, which were up 13.9% on a year ago – the best since December 2011.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “It’s worth remembering the sales comparison is against the weakest month of last year, largely caused by the movement of Easter in the calendar, and we’ll have to see whether this is additional spending or just shopping that has happened earlier than usual. Food sales growth continues to be largely underpinned by food inflation rather than by customers buying more.

"The overall retail environment is still difficult. Discounting remains a key tactic for retailers trying to encourage consumers to spend, particularly on big indoor items. People are still struggling to balance household budgets against expensive fuel and utilities. The warmth of March was a help, but it will take more than a week of sunshine to transform retailers’ fortunes.”

Helen Dickinson, head of retail, KPMG, said: “Increases in food prices rather than volumes was one of the factors behind the uplift in this month’s figures. Rising petrol prices continued to drive up transport and manufacturing costs, causing food prices to increase each month since the start of the year.

“Retailers will be hoping Easter provides a much-needed boost, but many are not holding their breath and continue to focus on controlling margins and costs.”