Retail sales edged up 0.6% like-for-like in July, when total revenues advanced 2.5%.

Food sales picked up during the month, the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor showed, as did clothing and footwear. However homewares was mostly down.

On a three-month basis like-for-like sales were down 0.6% across the industry. Food was up 0.9% but general merchandise slid 1.8%.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “This is a modest improvement on recent months but overall conditions remain very difficult for retailers.

“When you take into consideration inflation and January’s increase in VAT, 2.5% growth effectively means people are buying fewer goods.”

He said that inflation had driven food retailers’ top-line growth and observed: “Shoppers were only tempted into stores by an unprecedented level of promotions which come at the expense of margins. Sales of non-food goods barely grew, though clearance events helped summer clothing in particular.”

Sales made online, over the phone or by mail order rose 9.6% over the month.