Trading on the high street bounced back strongly last month to its highest level for more than three years, giving retailers a much-needed fillip.
Chains across the retail sector posted growth in February, with those selling furniture, homeware and flooring doing particularly well from the apparent mini-revival in the housing market, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG survey.
Sales at stores open at least a year jumped by 2.7 per cent last month. This was not only higher than January's 1.9 per cent rise and but also represented the fastest growth since December 2009, excluding distortions caused by the timing of Easter.
Helen Dickinson, the director general of the BRC, said: "After the disappointing figures that brought 2012 to a close, it's reassuring that the sales momentum established during an encouraging January has built, not faded. There are certainly highly welcome signs here of gradual improvement and customers feeling a bit more positive."
Total sales, including the boost from new space, rose by 4.4 per cent in February, the best performance since February 2010.
David McCorquodale, the head of retail at KPMG, said: "While one shouldn't read too much into one month's figures, February's data will provide a much-needed fillip to retailers' confidence levels. Against all expectations, retail sales rose this month to achieve the strongest underlying sales growth for three years."
Driven by strong demand for childrenswear, clothing retailers posted their strongest growth for five months.
"Relatively dry, if cold, weather and the occasional day of spring sunshine helped to lift clothing sales as well as drive footfall in the general direction of the department stores, with non-food and furnishing and flooring categories showing strong performances," he added.
The figures reinforce the view that this year's high-profile casualties, including the entertainment chain HMV, the DVD rental firm Blockbuster and the camera specialist Jessops, have clouded the fact that recent trading for most retailers has been relatively robust.
Ms Dickinson said: "February saw growth across all parts of retailing, with big-ticket goods and items for the home recovering particularly well, possibly reflecting better conditions in the housing market."
January's heavy snowfall also disrupted trading, particularly for DIY chains such as Wickes and B&Q.