A lovers surge in retail sales failed to keep the high street busy in February.
Overall, retail sales fell back by 0.3 per cent on a likefor-like basis, and showed growth of 2.9 per cent on a total basis, compared with a year earlier.
The three-month trend rate was -0.1 per cent, the same as in January, for like-for-like sales, but edged up to 2.9 per cent from 2.7 per cent for total sales.
The British Retail Consortium said that after a shortterm improvement from the January clearance sales, trade fell back in February to the tough pre-Christmas levels.
A boost around Valentine's Day failed to make up for weaker sales later in the month, leaving very tough trading conditions for many retailers
Consumers' concern about interest rates, the housing market and taxes continud to dog sales, particularly bigticket furniture and electricals. Clothing and footwear also suffered.
Kevin Hawkins, director general, said: "Footfall levels remained generally low throughout February - not helped by the bad weather across the UK.
"Valentine's Day did give some stores a boost, but this failed to make up for the rest of the month. Consumer confidence is evidently still weak and concern over interest rates and the housing market continue to impact on retail sales across all sectors."
Helen Dickinson, head of retail for survey sponsors, accountants KPMG, said: "As if the freezing temperatures were not enough, the persistent rain and snow in the latter half of the month has hit the February numbers hard.
"Although the total growth figure has held up, like-forlike sales dipped into negative territory for the third time in four months."
In the food and drink sector sales improved overall from a flat January as fresh fruit and vegetables continued to benefit from post- Christmas healthy eating. Valentine's Day and early trade for Mother's Day helped confectionery, wines and champagne.
Womenswear clothes sales was particularly weak, with smaller purchases such as handbags and accessories doing better than larger articles. Menswear also struggled overall, with younger fashions doing better.
Footwear sales were indifferent, with men's footwear poor throughout. Women's winter styles and boots continued to sell well, especially the ethnic look, with browns and tan becoming popular.
Trade in electrical and electronic remained very subdued.
For some department stores it was a good month, for others, tough and disappointing. DIY and gardening sales were sluggish, with seasonal lines hit by the weather, though the freeze did help plumbing and heating.