April retail like-for-likes fell 2.2% against a 3.3% decline in the same month last year, as the early timing of Easter hit sales.
Total sales slipped 0.6% compared to a 1% decline in April 2012, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.
Across the three-month average total retail sales were up 2.6%, while food like-for-likes edged up 0.6%, and non-food jumped 1.1%.
Online sales increased 8.3% in April - against a 9% rise last year - as it recovered from last month’s dip. But etail sales were down slightly on the average, again due to the timing of Easter.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said on the surface, April’s performance looks “poor” but added that once the distortion of Easter – which fell in March - is taken away, it was actually a better month than March.
But Dickinson cautioned: “There’s a sense that people are more prepared to spend than they were but chief executives are telling me that’s volatile.
“A convincing trend towards revival is hard to spot and competitive pricing is still critical to generating sales, despite the effect on margins and on retailers’ ability to invest in offering customers new ways to shop.
“Essentially, so far this year, sales growth is a small and tentative step up on where it was in 2012 but when it will take the next step is not clear.”
According to the monitor fashion sales were weak at the start of the month but sales came back as the weather warmed up. Health and beauty took gains across the month as the category recorded strong sales of cold and flu remedies and then bronzing and skin care products later in the month.
KPMG head of retail David McCorquodale said: “Taking the three month weighted average, which smooths out the effect of the timing of Easter, the total increase in retail sales was 2.6 per cent.
“This is a positive result and shows that, despite the cold weather of the last few months, the health of the retail sector is holding up and may be on a positive trajectory. It is yet to be seen at what margins these sales are being achieved and what is the cost of fulfilling the online demand, but retailers will be heartened by this momentum.”