Consumers are still holding back, the BRC says.
Sunny weather over Easter pushed UK retail sales sharply up in April from the same month a year ago, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said.
Like-for-like sales, which do not include those from new shops, grew by 4.6%, the figures showed.
But the data must to be treated with caution, the BRC said, because Easter - which usually sees a sales surge - fell in April, but was in March in 2008.
Warm, bright April days also contrasted with last April's rain, it added.
These factors made "comparisons difficult" said the BRC's director general Stephen Robertson.
He added that while sales of garden goods, outdoor leisure, clothing and food did well, other non-food sectors missed out on the seasonal boost.
"Over the last three months sales have gone up by about 2%, but that is below inflation," Mr Robertson told the BBC.
"What we're seeing is a real polarisation: food has romped away, whereas non-food, except for the last month, has been dropping every month [this year]."
The BRC said that the big danger to come this year for the retail sector would be the impact of rising unemployment, which Mr Robertson described as "the elephant in the room".
"With unemployment set to grow through the rest of the year, mounting jobs worries will hold back spending for some time."
There were some bright spots in non-food sales, with growth in clothing sales the best since late 2006.
Women's and children's clothing led the growth in sales, with sales of men's clothing lagging behind. Formal clothing did particularly badly.
The same was true of footwear, with summer styles for women and children performing well while men's shoes did less well.
Trade in electrical items was subdued, with growth mainly in areas with strong price promotions. Satellite navigation sold particularly poorly.
But it was the food sales that were the stars in April. The Easter spike in sales of chocolate, hot-cross buns and lamb joints were a particular boost to the figures.
The sunnier weather also raised sales of salads, fresh fruit, ice cream, cold meat and barbecue foods.