UK retail sales posted a surprise rise in January as shoppers were enticed by widespread heavy discounting, but demand for non-food items such as clothing continued to fall according to new figures released today (10 February).

Like-for-like retail sales rose 1.1% by value in the four weeks to 31 January, the British Retail Consortium said, making this the best monthly performance since May 2008.

Total sales were up 3.2%. The strong performance was driven by food sales, which rose 5.1%. Sales of non-food items such as clothing and footwear, however, fell by 1.6% - although the BRC said this was less than the decline seen in December.

Non-food non-store sales - transactions over the internet, or via mail order or telesales - were up 19.2% in January.

While the figures give some room for optimism Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said many purchases were replacements and essentials rather than discretionary extras as shoppers took advantage of good deals.

"Non-food sales fell more slowly suggesting January clearance deals released pent-up demand and customers started to spend on goods they've been intending to buy for months," he said.

"It remains to be seen whether January's discount driven growth was just a blip," Robertson added, pointing out that "the fundamentals haven't changed. Job fears are mounting. Consumer confidence is at record lows."