By Max Clarke

Surges in computer and telecoms sales contributed to a 1.3% boost in the retail sector as a whole.

The news comes just weeks after plummeting sales saw the UK’s worst month for retail since 1995, prompting fears of a return to recession.

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

All non-food retail sectors, barring household goods, saw increases in the value of sales, averaging 3.4%; while the biggest jump in performance came from non-store retailing, at 13%. Online fashion in particular has witnessed growth unprecedented across the sector, ballooning 152% over the past 5 years.

The picture was not all positive, with falls in DIY equipment causing a 7.7% drop in the household sector. Further disruptions are expected as consumer confidence remains depressed and household income continues to feel the squeeze.

Robertson Cautioned: “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.

“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.

“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.”