Retailers have been counting the cost of another month of falling sales after it emerged that business had declined for the sixth time this year.
The British Retail Consortium said like-for-like sales fell one per cent in August, better than the decline of 1.9 per cent seen in July but still disappointing when placed against weak comparatives of a year earlier.
It is the fifth month in a row that the figure has tumbled and means retailers have endured negative like-for-like growth for all but two months of 2005.
Furniture, carpets and major electrical sales were worst hit, while homewares and DIY suffered as cautious consumers preferred to spend on essential items at a time of rising energy bills and petrol prices.
BRC director general Kevin Hawkins said any improvement in the month-on-month performance was due to heavy discounting, which retailers had been forced into at a time of rising labour, property and energy costs.
He added: "The underlying position is still weak and unlikely to improve unless and until there are further cuts in interest rates and these work through to the consumer. Anything else is wishful thinking."
It is thought the England cricket team's Test matches have kept many shoppers away from the high street.
The mixed weather was also a problem for many firms with the uncertain climate leaving both food and drink and clothing sales down on July.
The BRC sales monitor, which is presented in conjunction with KPMG, said August was a very difficult month for most electrical and electronic retailers, with business down in the majority of product areas.