UK retail like-for-like sales fell 1.2 per cent in March, meaning the decline for the first quarter of the year was 0.7 per cent.

One quarter in to 2009, the three-month average for total sales growth was 1.2 per cent after a 0.6 per cent rise in March, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Calendar comparisons, however, are made difficult by the fall of Easter in March last year and the impact of unseasonal weather in that month.

Sectors including clothing and footwear recorded gains last month, when warmer weather granted retailers some repite. Clothing sales rose above their year-earlier level for the first time since May last year and footwear recorded the best year on year growth since the same month.

Toiletries and cosmetics performed ahead of the year-before levels for the first time since June. Homewares and furniture still bore the brunt of the downturn. Furniture suffered the worst fall for nine years despite heavy discounting.

Food sales remained resilient, driven in part by inflation. Internet, mail-order and phone sales in March were 10.8 per cent higher year-on-year, but still less than the 30 per cent gain recorded in December.

Overall over the first three months of the year total food sales grew 6.3 per cent or 4.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis. Total non-food sales during the quarter fell 2.1 per cent or 4.3 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the March figures are “unlikely to be the basis of sustained improvement”.

He said: “Customers are still worried about jobs and their own finances so they’re keeping spending under tight control. We’ve now seen negative like-for-like sales growth in nine of the past 10 months.”

KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson said: “While 0.6 per cent growth in the value of total retail sales is nothing to write home about, it is better than expected given that we still have the anticipated uplift due to Easter trading to come in April.”