Retail sales entered positive territory for only the third time in the past 12 months, with like-for-like sales up by 1.3 per cent in March, according to the latest edition of the BDO Stoy Hayward High Street Sales Tracker.
Homeware sales increased for the first time since July 2008, with like-for-like sales up by 5.7 per cent.
Graham Elsworth, partner at BDO Stoy Hayward in Birmingham, said: “After a dismal February and very difficult trading conditions on the high street, retailers reported surprisingly robust results in March.
“Underlying demand was much higher than we expected, and sales appear to have been bolstered by the driest March weather for six years.”
“It is clearly premature to classify these upbeat figures as a definite recovery trend. However, there are signs that demand is holding up and not contracting as sharply as we feared last month.”
Fashion sales were the only sector to report a downward trend during March, with a dip of 1.1 per cent. While the fine weather helped to drive demand for seasonal spring fashion and footwear, sales of formalwear, accessories and lingerie were weaker.
But non-fashion retailers had a good month with the change in dates for Mother’s Day seeing sales rise by 6.3 per cent.
Gift, health and beauty and luxury stores all benefited from strong sales while general household demand also held up. In contrast, demand for leisure goods remained subdued, whilst outdoor leisure specialists also found it more difficult.
Homeware stores reported an excellent month with sales returning to positive territory for the first time since June last year with a rise of up 5.7 per cent.
Prompted by better weather, DIY activity was popular, helping to boost demand for lighting, textiles and blinds. Furniture sales were also up.
Mr Elsworth said: “Discounting, promotions and the good weather were clearly the tonic retailers needed to boost sales into positive territory during March.
“Another good month of sales during April will be essential to the future of UK retailers – particularly as Quarter Day will still be fresh in many people’s minds.”