The year-on-year pace of growth in sales value in August, recorded in the latest monthly survey published today by the British Retail Consortium, is only slightly adrift of a corresponding rate of 3.9% in July.
David McCorquodale, the Edinburgh-based head of accountancy firm and BRC survey sponsor KPMG's UK retail sector practice, saw signs of improved confidence in consumers' purchases of non-essential, big-ticket items for their homes. But he raised a question over how these purchases were being financed.
Some economists have highlighted the fact that the recent improvement in the economy has been driven in large part by consumers, even though earnings continue to fall in real terms.
Mr McCorquodale said: "After suffering from some of the worst sales on record last year, furniture and flooring sales rebounded (in August). It's a positive sign that consumers feel confident enough about the future to make large-scale, non-essential investments in their homes."
However, he added: "Whether or not these investments are being powered by finance or consumers dipping into their savings remains to be seen. A debt or savings-fuelled spending bubble, of course, would not be sustainable in the long term."
The BRC said food had been the worst-performing category in terms of the year-on-year change in sales value in August.
However, it pointed out that this category had faced tough comparatives, having been boosted a year earlier by the London 2012 Olympics.
The BRC meanwhile highlighted 15% year-on-year growth in online sales of non-food products in August. Year-on-year growth in online sales of non-food products had been particularly weak in August last year, as people focused on watching the Olympics.
The home accessories category was the second-best performer last month, in terms of year-on-year sales growth.
Helen Dickinson, director-general of the BRC, said: "While these figures don't quite reach the lofty heights of what was an exceptional July, they're keeping the good run going and are well above the 12-month average for sales growth. Taken hand in hand with a recent uptick in consumer confidence, the signs are that many of us are feeling a little more positive about the economic outlook and responding well to good deals and new autumn collections alike.
"Non-food had an impressive month, as retailers answered the continuing cautious optimism with good ranges and appealing promotions, especially in their back-to-school offers and items for the home."
However, she added: "In contrast, it wasn't such a golden month for food, which performed strongly in 2012 as many of us stocked up on celebratory fare for the month of sport."
Ms Dickinson believed the retail sales figures maintained the sense that "a consumer-led recovery is tentatively taking shape".