The January sales helped give a much needed sales lift to UK retailers, but the respite proved to be short-lived in a continuing tough consumer environment. The monthly BRC/KPMG Sales Monitor showed UK sales up by 0.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis in January, with total year-on-year growth of 3.5 per cent. The three-month growth rates was down by 0.1 per cent like-for-like, but edged up to 2.7 per cent for total sales, marginally ahead of December.

The BRC said January sales started well, especially over the New Year Bank Holiday, but then fell back to nearer pre-Christmas levels, with trade still difficult and disappointing for many retailers. Consumers remain cautious, especially about big-ticket purchases, hitting furniture and larger electricals suffered. Clothing and footwear had a better month.

BRC director general Kevin Hawkins said: “The heavy discounting and widespread clearance sales got January off to a good start, with many retailers relying on strong January sales to help compensate for what was the worst Christmas in a decade. However, following a relatively strong New Year’s bank holiday, trading then took a downward turn.

Overall January was better than the flat December. The first week was very strong, with some excellent sales of women’s, children’s and especially menswear. Good clearance was achieved in the sales but trade then fell back before improving end-month. In womenswear, skirts were popular, particularly tiered gypsy styles. Casualwear did better than formalwear, with sportswear, combat trousers and ‘hoody’ tops selling well. Cold weather helped knitwear sales. Accessories were strong, especially handbags.