Londoners enjoying the warm weather in London, May 2012. Photograph: Veronika Lukasova/ Veronika Lukasova/ZUMA Press/Corbis Sunnier weather in May prompted shoppers to splurge on ice cream, barbecue food and shorts, setting retailers' tills ringing. But despite a bounceback in retail sales last month, consumers remain cautious about spending on bigger items, the latest monthly snapshop from the British Retail Consortium shows.

As wet and cold weather in the first half of the month gave way to warmer temperatures in the final week, shoppers celebrated the arrival of summer by spending more on food and drink, summer clothes, lawnmowers and garden furniture. UK retail sales climbed 1.3% from May 2011 on a like-for-like basis, although the improvement was not enough to offset April's 3.3% annual drop, according to the BRC. Total sales, including new shops, rose 3.4% last month against a 1% fall in April.

While the first weeks of May saw people buying jeans and knitwear, many more were buying skirts, shorts, swimwear and sandals by the end of the month. Wedges were particularly popular while flat shoes and pumps also sold well thanks to promotions, which were more widespread than last year. Tight budgets meant that customers favoured value lines and plain styles which can be worn for work as well as leisure.

Womenswear had its best growth so far this year and and children's clothes saw a double-digit uplift in sales, while garden centres enjoyed a surge in the number of people investing in gardening tools and new lawnmowers to tackle overgrown grass. Some retailers said April's downpours led to pent-up demand which was unleashed at the first sign of summer, with shoppers rushing to update their summer wardrobes.

Electrical retailers benefited from the launch of the iPad 3 and new Kindle while television sales were boosted by the digital switchover. White goods sales were steady and often for replacement rather than upgrade, and many were promotion-driven at the expense of profit margins, especially for larger purchases.

Stephen Robertson, BRC director general, said: "Much of the month's positive performance can be attributed to spending in the final week when consumers responded enthusiastically to the sun coming out. The performance of food retailers was more consistent across the month. Retailers will be hoping the boost continues, sustained by this summer's celebrations and sporting events."

Retailers have also been counting on a boost from the jubilee celebrations last weekend, which saw fruit, wine and garden products fly off the shelves. Experts reckon up to £823m could have been spent during the four-day celebrations, with supermarkets seen as the main winners. With the Euro 2012 football tournament kicking off on Friday, followed by the London Olympics in July, shops hope to capitalise on the feelgood factor to make up lost ground after a dismal spring. A lot hinges on the weather, though, which has taken a turn for the worse again.

Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said: "Retailers are hoping that the Jubilee celebrations will have helped to pull out them of the mire, but a short-term patriotic spending spree will not overcome the underlying difficulties facing the industry - which remains under pressure from a combination of declining consumer confidence and squeezed incomes."

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, agreed. "Although consumer confidence improved in May, it is still extremely low compared to long-term norms, which is hardly surprising given that the UK is back in recession and there is major uncertainty over the situation in Greece/eurozone and how this could hit the UK."

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