The high street suffered its worst performance for three years in April as retail sales fell for the second month in a row, figures showed today.
Clothing and footwear stores were worst hit as like-for-like sales fell 1.5 per cent, the British Retail Consortium said.
This followed March’s 1.6 per cent sales reverse as the retail sector plumbed depths not seen since 2005.
Although the picture was muddied by poor weather this year compared to last April’s heatwave – as well as a late Easter boosting sales in 2007 – the BRC said underlying trading remained difficult.
BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: "With higher fuel and utility bills eating away at people’s spare cash, they are concentrating on essentials like food.
"Retailers will look to the recent sunny weather to provide some boost but with the economic fundamentals remaining weak, there seems no reason for these tough trading conditions to improve soon."
Clothing and footwear stores saw their worst monthly performance for eight years as the poor weather hit sales despite heavy discounts and promotions.
Fashion chain Next gave a grim snapshot of the tough conditions faced by the sector last week with an 8.9 per cent fall in like-for-like sales at its high street outlets in the 13 weeks to April 26.
A host of retailers slipped into negative territory in April with the few exceptions including grocers, who bounced back from a poor March.
The cold weather boosted sales of meat, vegetables, pies and pizzas as shivering shoppers shunned salads, ice-cream and barbecue foods.
The BRC’s less volatile three-month measure also showed a 0.6 per cent like-for-like sales decline in the three months to April compared to 2007.
High street conditions remain fragile despite stronger official figures on retail sales volumes from the Office for National Statistics.
The latest ONS figures showed a two per cent rise in retail volumes during the first three months of the year, although in March this tailed off with a 0.4 per cent fall.
And last week Nationwide Building Society said its Consumer Confidence index fell for the seventh consecutive month during April to hit a new low as people worried about the state of the economy.