Rain was the only thing that dampened shoppers' enthusiasm last month.

Latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that the volume of retail sales rose for most of May, until the outbreak of rainy weather.

Sales rose 5.7%, although the last week of the month saw a fall off in business as the poorer weather kept shoppers at home.

Like-for-like sales, which exclude the effect of new and expanded stores were 3.2% higher - roughly in line with the trend over the last three months.

Retailers noted that the rising volume of sales was being achieved through intense price competition and did not point to a retail boom.

Mark Bradshaw, acting director general of the BRC, said: "These figures show the continuation of the slow, steady recovery we have seen since the beginning of the year.

"There is some evidence of increased consumer confidence, but shoppers remain extremely bargain conscious, which is exacerbating price deflation across the sector."

Shop prices slip

Last week the BRC's shop price index, which monitors the price of the most commonly bought items in shops, showed that prices had fallen for the 13th consecutive month in May. Prices were 1.1% lower than a year earlier.

Latest sales figures show that fashion and footwear picked up early in the month but trailed off when the wet weather arrived in the last week.

The sale of food and drink, particularly alcohol and barbecue products, were also hit by the rainy weather.

The figures come on the day when the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee starts its two-day meeting to decide on the level of interest rates.

Businesses and homeowners will be hoping that recent economic indicators including the latest BRC data will be enough to convince the Bank that inflationary pressures are benign and persuade it to leave interest rates on hold.

It has already increased interest rates four times in the past six months, to their current level of 6%, to keep inflation under control.