Retail sales in April were better than expected according to the CBI, with sales volumes unexpectedly flat after more than a year of decline.

According to the CBI Distributive Trades Survey, 44 per cent of retailers said year-on-year volumes grew in the first half of April. With 41 per cent of retailers saying first half volume sales were down, there was a resulting balance of 3 per cent, the highest figure from the survey since January 2008.

Although this was a marked improvement on March sales, retailers believe that declining sales will return in May. 

The best performing sector, according to the survey, was grocery with every respondent reporting a sales lift from a year ago. Footwear and leather goods also reported year-on-year growth but all other sectors reported a fall in sales, with the steepest declines from durable and household goods retailers. 

Asda chief operating officer and CBI Distributive Trades Panel chairman Andy Clarke said: “The good turnout by shoppers over this year’s later Easter may well have influenced the April retail figures, and while they mark a respite they should not be taken as an indication of a high street revival. With unemployment rising and growth in average earnings down, consumers remain very wary, and retailers themselves think that sales will drop again in May.”