Retailers have experienced the best October for seven years, with like-for-like sales up 3.8% on a year ago during the month.

Total retail sales in October rose 5.9% in October compared with a 0.1% decline in October 2008, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

The like-for-like figure compares with a 2.2% drop in October 2008 when the collapse of the banking market impacted shopper confidence.

Food sales growth continued to slow over the month, reflecting lower food price inflation. Homewares and furniture sales grew, helped by an improving trend in consumer confidence and the housing market.

Clothing and footwear sales rose on September but the comparison is versus a weak October 2008.

Internet, mail order and phone sales rose 18% year-on-year in the month, versus an 11.9% rise in September.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the results were “encouraging” and the best like-for-like and total sales growth since October 2002. However, he warned that they should be compared with “dreadful” figures last year when the last three months of the year were negative.

“Throughout the recession food has consistently been one of the best performing sectors,” said Robertson. “But food sales growth has fallen to its lowest for 19 months with food inflation tumbling since this spring. By contrast, most non-food sectors were well up on last year. Children’s clothing, for example, received a big boost from half-term spending and Halloween.”

He added: “With less than 50 days to go before Christmas, retailers will be hoping improved consumer confidence will be sustained during the festive period and beyond. Shops have already started to battle it out for customers with a string of promotions and discounts.”