OUR love of chocolate eggs and our mothers helped increase UK retail sales in March, figures have shown. Sales increased by 3.2 per cent on a like-for-like basis from March 2014, when they had decreased 1.7 per cent on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were up 4.7 per cent, against a 0.3 per cent fall in March2014.

Total growth was 6.8 per cent but the figure is boosted by the inclusion of Easter in March this year as opposed to April last year. Total Food sales experienced their strongest growth sinceJuly 2013, helped by the Easter distortion.

Growth was also strong in the homecategories but subdued in the fashion ones. Online sales of non-food products in the UK grew 12.3 percent in March versus a year earlier, when it had grown 12.8 per cent.

The Non-Food online penetration rate was 17.6 per cent, up from 16.9 per cent inMarch 2014. Helen Dickinson, Director General, British RetailConsortium, said: "People hit the high street in March as the three monthaverage showed that brick and mortar stores have contributed more to growththan online sales - the first time since August 2014. Looking at retail as awhole, there was a 4.7 per cent bump in sales, strengthened by the inclusion of Easter but underpinned by slow but steady growth.

"An increase in consumers venturing out to shop can beexpected at this time of year and although this period is often difficult tomeasure due to Easter distortions, we saw a marked increase in sales acrosshome categories including Furniture and Household Appliances, even thoughfashion sales were a bit subdued. As could be expected during Easter, shoppershad a greater appetite for food with a 1.8 per cent increase in sales over thelast three months.

"All-in-all, retailers can also be satisfied with theconsumer response to their Mother’s Day and Easter offerings, but it isimportant to note that April figures will be impacted by the absence of Easterthis year." David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG, said: "An early Easter and better economic news helped lift retail sales out of thedoldrums in March and the sector posted the strongest sales growth seen innearly a year.

"While the figures are inflated by the timing ofEaster, they are still a welcome boost for retailers who have battled flat orfalling like for like sales for the last quarter. As anticipated furniture andhome accessory retailers were the major beneficiaries of the bank holidaybreak, seeing sales soar as shoppers focussed on the home and garden. Signs of recovery were also seen in the grocers’ figures,who are mounting a slow but steady fight back.

However price deflationcontinues to dog the sector, and while supermarkets may be selling more, theyare peddling hard to stand still. Demand is definitely pushing in the rightdirection, but there is a long way to go before like for like food sales areback in positive territory. "Any retail recovery is built on confidence anduncertainty around the outcome of the election continues to cast a shadow overthe long term recovery of the sector.

If the result causes concern andconfusion this could be the factor that stifles consumer spending." Food & Drink sector performance – Joanne Denney-Finch,Chief Executive, IGD, said: "March’s food and drink sales performed wellin value terms, despite falling prices in many categories. Easter happeningearlier this year compared to 2014 did, however, have a flattering impact onthis year’s performance. "Shoppers are benefiting both from falling businesscosts and simpler retailer pricing, helping them feel more confident that theyare getting good value. Our latest ShopperVista research shows that seven outof ten of them say they find it easy to compare prices and find the best valuein stores, compared to 66 per cent who said the same last year and 56 per centin 2012."

The BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor measures changes in theactual value (including VAT) of retail sales, excluding automotive fuel. TheMonitor measures the value of spending and hence does not adjust for price orVAT changes. If prices are rising, sales volumes will increase by less thansales values. In times of price deflation, sales volumes will increase by morethan sales values.