UK retail like-for-like sales rose 2.6 per cent in January compared with last year, when sales were up 3.1 per cent against a weak January 2006.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), between November and January, like-for-likes climbed 1.5 per cent from 0.8 per cent in December, and total sales increased 3.7 per cent from 2.8 per cent.

Food sales picked up after slowing in December and clothing sales were down on a year ago for the fourth consecutive month, despite aggressive discounting. Homewares and furniture showed a small improvement, but remained difficult. Health and beauty picked up, but was still behind last summer.

BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “Following three months of weak year-on-year growth, this appears to be significantly better, but the figures don’t mean consumer confidence is reviving yet. The headline results conceal a mixed picture. In part, rising sales values were caused by increases in some food prices.”

KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson said: “While the doom-mongers may be temporarily silenced by this month’s results, it’s certainly too early to draw any conclusions about how the rest of the year will pan out.

"The growth of 4.9 per cent in total and 2.6 per cent in like-for-like sales was heavily skewed by a strong performance in week one, as January Sales absorbed demand carried over from a poor December, which then deteriorated as the month progressed."