The unusually warm weather in March helped to bring out the shoppers, with the British Retail Consortium reporting that UK retail sales values were up 1.3 per cent on a like for like basis for the month.
March 2011 saw sales decline by 3.5 per cent.
On a total basis, sales were up 3.6 per cent, against a 1.9 per cent decline in March 2011.
While food sales growth was unchanged, the key winners for the month were clothing, footwear and outdoor leisure. Indoor homewares remained down on a year ago, with larger purchases in particular hit by consumer caution.
Online sales of non-food items showed stronger growth, but against a weak March 2011. Sales were up 13.9 per cent on a year ago, the best since December 2011.
"It's worth remembering the sales comparison is against the weakest month of last year, largely caused by the movement of Easter in the calendar, and we'll have to see whether this is additional spending or just shopping which has happened earlier than usual," commented Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC.
"The overall retail environment is still difficult. Discounting remains a key tactic for retailers trying to encourage consumers to spend, particularly on big indoor items. People are still struggling to balance household budgets against expensive fuel and utilities.
"The warmth of March was a help but it will take more than a week of sunshine to transform retailers' fortunes."