UK retailers last month enjoyed their best October sales growth for seven years, with clothing sales helped by sales of children's Halloween costumes and easy comparisons with the year-ago period when consumer spending went into freefall.

According to new figures published today (10 November) by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), sales values rose 3.8% on a like-for-like basis from October 2008.

On a total basis, sales rose 5.9% against a 0.1% decline in October 2008.

Clothing and footwear showed stronger growth than in September, the BRC said, but the gains were against large declines a year ago.

"These are encouraging results - the best like-for-like and total October sales growth since 2002," said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.

"They are, however, compared to dreadful figures last year when the final three months were all negative."

For the second month running the non-food sector outperformed the food sector, bolstered by a strong performance of women's clothing and footwear. Children's clothing received a big boost from half-term spending and Halloween.

But while optimism is up in the approach to Christmas, Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG warned: "The longer-term outlook remains considerably more challenging, given the economic backdrop, levels of unemployment, uncertainty regarding the impending VAT rise and the impact of future fiscal policy following next year's election."

Non-food non-store sales (internet, mail-order and phone sales) in October were 18.0% higher than a year ago despite the disruption caused by postal strikes.

"How far this builds, and boosts sales further, in the critical pre-Christmas months may depend on the planned postal strikes," noted Sharon Hardiman, head of non-store retailing at the BRC.

"Online's slice of overall Christmas spending hinges heavily on customers being sure retailers can get the goods to them."