The volume of retail sales, excluding petrol, increased in March by 3.1% compared to the same month a year ago, while the value of retail sales in the same period increased by 4.5%, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Compared to the previous month, retail sales volumes for March were up by 0.2% and the value of retail sales increased by 0.1%.

These figures are at odds with those released earlier this month by the British Retail Consortium which said that total retail sales for the first three months of this year fell 1.9% year-on-year, with like-for-likes down 3.5% year-on-year.

According to the ONS the largest contributors to the change in sales volumes came from non-food stores which increased by 8.2%.

The sector experiencing the largest fall in retail sales by volume came from household goods stores which fell by 7.7% driven by a decline in DIY store sales.

All stores with the exception of household goods, experienced increases in the value of retail sales and prices across all stores are estimated to have risen by 3.4% over the year from March 2010 to March 2011. 

Director General of the British Retail Consortium, Stephen Robertson, said: “This is a more positive picture than from our own figures which showed the value of total sales below a year earlier. But the ONS may revise down their March figures as they have just done for January and February.

“Even so, the ONS figures confirm a worrying downward trend for retail sales. Annual growth in sales values is a quarter of what it was in January and the worst since April last year which was hit by the earlier Easter.

“With DIY, clothing and even food sales suffering, it’s clear customers are cutting back and extremely reluctant to spend despite a mass of promotions and discounts.

“This April’s figures will be helped by Easter and the Royal Wedding. That’s welcome but won’t change the fundamentally weak conditions likely to undermine consumer confidence for some time yet.”