STRONGER furniture and fashion sales helped push retail sales up by 1.7pc in the year to November 2013.
Clothing and footwear sales fared particularly well in November, rising by 5.7pc in the month and by nearly 8pc in the year, the latest Retail Sales Index shows.
Furniture and lighting sales were also strong, rising by 2.7pc in the month and by 16.7pc in the year, adding to evidence of an improving property market.
But the Central Statistics Office figures show that while consumers may be buying more, shops have had to cut prices to persuade them to do so. The actual value of retail sales is almost unchanged in the 12 months to November 2013, rising by just 0.1pc.
The books, newspapers and stationery sector saw the biggest drop in sales of 3.2pc in November, while the motoring sector saw a 2.5pc drop, and food, beverages and tobacco saw purchases fall by 1.8pc.
Excluding the motor trade, there was a monthly increase of 1.3pc in the volume of retail sales and a yearly rise of 1.6pc.
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) has warned that the retail sector faces a bleak future with further job losses if the Government doesn't take urgent action to tackle high overheads and weak consumer demand.
ISME's survey at the end of 2013 showed one in 10 retailers expected to employ fewer people in 2014.
"This pessimistic outlook is in contrast to the jobs expectations of the other sectors, where a net 18pc expect to employ more. It is now more imperative than ever that the Government pays attention to these warning signs," said ISME chief executive Mark Fielding.
Merrion stockbrokers economist Alan McQuaid said the retail sales data was weaker than expected.
"Households are still very nervous about the economic climate and are more willing to save than spend until there is greater clarity about the outlook," he said.
The biggest factor influencing spending was the continued decline in disposable income and an increase in taxes, Mr McQuaid said.
However, there were encouraging signs on the labour market due to a fall in the numbers on the Live Register, he added.
Davy Stockbrokers said that even though retail sales were flat in November, the final figures for 2013 are likely to show an increase which is "another encouraging sign that the Irish economy is stabilising".