UK like-for-like sales dropped 0.3% in February, as “a convincing revival remains illusory”, said the British Retail Consortium.

Total sales in the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor were up 2.3% in February, an improvement on January’s 2.1% rise. The improvement in February was driven by increased food sales, as shoppers stocked up in the cold weather.

Non-food like-for-like sales continued to fall, slipping by 0.3%, despite increased promotions and discounting. Clothing, footwear and homewares sales were worse than both December and January.

Homewares showed their largest year-on-year fall since May 2008 and furnitures and floorcoverings fell below last year’s level, as did health and beauty.

Clothing sales fell back below the previous year’s level as womenswear was hardest hit, and although the colder weather helped sales of warmer garments, larger purchases such as coats had already been bought in January sales.

Freezing temperatures and snow pushed sales of comfort food, while winter vegetables were bought in preference to fresh fruit and salad.

Non-food non-store sales were 9.9% up on a year ago but growth slowed further, following a strong December.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “Total sales growth is still below inflation, so overall customers are actually buying less than a year ago, while discounts are eating into margins.”

He added that “weak sales” could struggle to improve as consumer confidence remains fragile due to the uncertainty of the upcoming Budget announcements, fuel prices rising and unemployment, which is expected to increase further.

KPMG head of retail Helen Dickinson said: “Many retailers feel they’re fighting very hard just to stand still at best and don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

“However, there are retailers out there who deliver what the customer wants and needs – in terms of product, brand and price – which proves that if the proposition is spot on it is possible to outperform the market and the competition.”