Comparable sales rose 1.9 per cent in January, compared with a 0.3 per cent year on year fall in 2012, suggesting consumer confidence is stronger than it was a year ago.
The rise, which was driven by food sales, came despite snow around much of the country.
Total sales increased 3 per cent during the month.
There was a slowdown in online sales growth, which at 10.1 per cent in January was lower than the 11.3 per cent registered a year ago, but in line with the 12 month average.
Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC, says: “People were tempted out by offers and promotions but also treated themselves to full-price and premium products early in January, particularly must-have technology items. These factors, coupled with recovering consumer confidence, have added up to a more successful January than we saw last year. All in all, these figures give a sense that the mood is lifting a little for customers and retailers. Let’s hope it continues.”
The retail sector has been dogged by administrations of HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster so far this year but the strong start to 2013 “gives retailers reasons to be cheerful” according to David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG.
He says: “Many retailers will look back at the last two months with pride after implementing successful seasonal campaigns where they have served the customer well.”
Joanne Denney-Finch, IGD chief executive, says the figures give cause for “cautious optimism” in the grocery market.