Retail experts warned the key Christmas trading period hangs in the balance as figures showed high street sales growth slowed last month.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed like-for-like sales values increased by 0.7% year-on-year in November, but said underlying volumes were virtually flat once inflation was stripped out.
Like-for-like sales growth dropped slightly from 0.8% in October as consumers restricted their spending because of fears over their financial security and uncertainty over the economy.
The BRC described November as another difficult month for retailers.
The figures do not include the effects of the recent snowy weather which impacted sales by keeping shoppers at home and disrupting deliveries.
Sales in early December are expected to be hit by the adverse weather, but the BRC hopes retailers will make up the sales in the next three weeks.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: “With the final run-up under way, Christmas performance is delicately poised,” he said.
“Retailers will be hoping disruption eases so that sales lost early in the month are made up over the next couple of weeks and not lost entirely.”
Clothing sales returned to growth after the first decline in almost a year in October as the coldest November since 1993 prompted consumers to buy winter outfits.
Sales of footwear, particularly boots, were also boosted by the winter weather and fashion trends although general womenswear continued to struggle.
Sales of non-food items on the internet grew 10 times quicker than the rest of the retail sector, clocking up 17.6% growth following a slight fall in October.
Consumers continue to grow more comfortable with spending online, but internet sales still account for just 6% of retail sales, said the BRC.
The cold snap is expected to further boost internet sales in December as consumers opt to stay indoors and wait for deliveries rather than brave the elements on the high street, it added.
Food sales were also strong last month, mainly as a result of inflation, with consumers snapping up traditional Christmas treats such as luxury Christmas puddings.
The cold weather prompted consumers to buy hearty food such as soup, pies and puddings.
However, homeware sales slowed last month, with a larger year-on-year decline than in October.
Meanwhile, a survey by accountancy firm RSM Tenon revealed the number of retailers that fell into administration decreased in the third quarter of the year at a slower rate than other sectors of the economy.
The firm fears the VAT increase on January 4 could create a wave of retail administrations next year.