The High Street has suffered its worst April since records began ten years ago with retailers suffering from plummetting sales.
Warmer days during the month failed to give much respite to shopkeepers struggling with consumer uncertainty over interest rates and the General Election.
Sales in the UK fell by 4.7 per cent on a like for like basis during April compared with a year ago, according to figures released by the British Retail Consortium.
The BRC said the drop was only partly exaggerated by comparison with April 2004, which included Easter, with a 0.9 per cent fall in the three months to April.
Total sales dropped by 1.3 per cent compared with a 1.8 per cent rise in March.
The BRC said trade worsened across the board but especially for discretionary purchases and nonessentials.
It blamed consumer caution and the slowing housing market for affecting the sales of big-ticket items, particularly white electricals and furniture.
Younger fashion clothing and footwear benefited when the sun shone but trade overall was tough, it said.
Kevin Hawkins, director general of the BRC, said: "April was another very tough month - the like for like figure is the worst on record.
"Some stores enjoyed stronger sales on warmer days, but this was short- lived and sales in most sectors suffered, especially bigticket items.
"A slowing housing market, pre-election economic uncertainty and the continuing threat of interest rate rises dominated consumer confidence in April. "
Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said: "In case anyone still needed convincing, these figures confirm it - trading on the high street is tough.
"The timing of Easter has artificially deflated this month's figures, but the underlying trend is still downwards."