The early Easter helped invigorate March retail sales but retailers are holding little hope that tough trading conditions have turned around.

The increase - up 1.8 per cent on a like-for-like yearly basis and 5.4 per cent on a total basis - was flattered by comparison with March 2004, which did not include Easter.

Although some retailers enjoyed the boost in the Easter week, it was by no means widespread and trade dropped back after Easter, the British Retail Consortium warned.

Consumer caution continued to hit sales of bigticket items, particularly electricals and furniture. Though women's and men's clothing and footwear benefited from the warmer Easter week, the month as a whole was tough, it said.

Kevin Hawkins, BRC director general, said: "Easter trading wasn't bad, but the rest of the month was hard going for most retailers. Even then, the modest uplift in sales during Easter week was driven in many cases by discounting - underlying consumer sentiment has not changed and will not do so as long as another rise in interest rates is threatened."