Cool weather boosted autumn fashion collections and demand for back-to-school ranges helped retail sales have their best performance since January.

UK retail sales increased by 1.3% on a like-for-like basis during August compared with the same period last year, according to the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor.

Total sales were up 2.7% year on year in August, compared with a 3.6% rise last year, and represented the best performance since January after Easter distortions are excluded.

Growth was driven by clothing and footwear after the sectors reported their fastest rate of growth since December 2011, while food was the worst-performing category, with a new record decline of 1.6% for three-month average sales.

Online sales for non-food recorded their fastest rate of growth, with a 19.8% surge since the online sales monitor’s inception in December 2012.

Helen Dickinson, director-general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers have pointed to the successful launch of their autumn fashion collections helped by the cooler weather, as well as a good response to marketing campaigns for back to school clothing.

“Furniture sales also did well as the strength of the housing market continues although not as well as in July. Consumers are still taking advantage of record low food inflation. The strength of the economy is not yet consistent across all areas of the country and shop prices fell in August.

“For retailers the challenge in these circumstances is to ensure continued investment in digital innovation, the physical retail space and job creation.”

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, added: “Back to school sales and the changing of the season saw fashion retailers put in a strong performance in August.  

“However, not all sectors are seeing their sales grow. The food sector remains in a state of disruption with the share of the ‘big four’ being challenged on many fronts after a 15-year reign. The like-for-like decline shows the battle is being fought via the prices on the shelves, but the war may be won by those grocers best able to adhere to brand values to retain customer loyalty.

“With autumn drawing in, the countdown to Christmas has now begun. This will be a true bellwether of consumer confidence. If shoppers feel secure enough in the future to spend, then retailers could be in for an enjoyable Christmas this year.”