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Despite fears that freezing temperatures throughout March had kept shoppers off the high streets, figures out this morning show retail sales across the UK were up 1.9 per cent on a like-for-like basis compared with a year ago.

On a total basis (including new store space and openings), sales were up 3.7 per cent. Adjusted for Shop Price Index inflation at 1.4 per cent in March, total retail sales values grew 2.3 per cent in real terms.

Said Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium, “This is a positive result, which rounds off a first quarter of cautious optimism for many retailers.

“2013 has got off to an encouraging start for the market as a whole. Retailers are now hoping for a boost in consumer confidence and the general mood to lift performance across all, not just some sectors, as we head into the second quarter. Getting a bit of sunshine, at long last, might help that along!”

The fact that Easter fell in March this year but April in 2012, has helped this year’s figures, especially for items which tend to sell well over the long weekend like food and homewares. But even stripping out figures for the last week in March, she says performances were encouraging, considering the weather impact.

"Snow and the prolonged cold were not ideal but not a disaster. They brought mixed fortunes for different categories. Food was boosted by a continued appetite for hearty meals and ‘wintry' fare such as roasts and chocolate. But demand was cool for new season clothing and footwear lines, resulting in a decline for both categories.”

And said David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG, “The early Easter this year certainly boosted the March sales figures and food and drink sales in particular soared. There was also a welcome rise in house-related spending over the Easter break.

"Easter distortions aside, the three-month average figures paint a positive picture and show the highest like-for-like sales increases since December 2009. On the back of strong January and February results, this may be the beginning of a positive trend and will be welcomed by many retailers.”