Retail sales volumes returned to positive territory in March, driven by a strong performance from food and fashion retailers.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), UK retail sales volumes were 0.3 per cent higher than in February, when sales fell 2 per cent. Year-on-year sales in March were 1.5 per cent higher.

The volume of sales over the first quarter of the year was 0.9 per cent up on the previous three-month period.

Year-on-year sales volumes of household goods slumped 6.5 per cent, but food and clothes sales recorded an uplift. Sales volumes for food stores rose 0.6 per cent during March and by 1.3 per cent year on year.

Sales volumes for non-food stores was 0.1 per cent higher than a year ago, but fell 0.2 per cent month-on-month. Sales volumes in textiles, clothing and footwear rose by 8.4 per cent year-on-year.

The ONS said that the improved weather in March tempted shoppers out to buy spring ranges.

However, the slump in the housing market meant that sales of furniture and lighting dropped, although DIY sales held firm.

Sales in non-specialist stores, such as department stores, fell 1.1 per cent in the month compared with the year before. They have fallen for nine out of the past 10 months.

Internet sales in March accounted for 3.4 per cent of total retail sales that month, with the average weekly value up from £167m in February to about £172m in March.

Barclays Commercial Bank head of retail and wholesale Richard Lowe said the figures are “a little more resilient than widely expected and continue to contrast against the sharp fall in activity in the wider economy”.

He said the figures show that the sales growth came “despite the fact that price discounting seems to have been less aggressive and widespread than earlier in the year, signalling perhaps slightly more confidence about the sustainability of sales among retailers.”

He added: “Operating tighter stock controlling techniques will enable retailers to preserve their cash flow, with the more successful retailers commanding greater control over their business operations than ever before.”