Woolworths yesterday became the latest chain to report declining sales.
The High Street retailer blamed a weak collection of entertainment releases for leaving its same-store sales 4.4 per cent worse off than a year ago.
The extent of the downturn meant Woolworths aimed to switch the focus of its 800 stores away from DVDs and video games to more profitable areas such as homeware and clothing.
Business remained difficult with the outlook for consumer spending poor.
The figures, which cover the period since the end of January, indicated a worsening trend as like-for-like sales - three per cent lower than a year earlier in April - declined to show a 4.4 per cent deterioration in the 18-week period.
Woolworths put much of the drop down to a weaker release schedule in entertainment, which covers music, video, games and books.
Stripping out this area, like-for-like sales were 0.3 per cent down on last year, it added.
The company told shareholders not to expect "any special return of cash" this year as it said such a move would be "inappropriate" at a time when it faced an uncertain retail outlook and a major store refurbishment project.
Woolworths has enjoyed a revival under chief executive Trevor Bish-Jones, lifting 2004 profits by five per cent to £73.1 million, although this has been offset by the poor sales performance this year.
Meanwhile Austin Reed warned that the difficult retail trading environment was "likely to continue in the remainder of 2005".
The group said total retail sales in the 18 weeks to June 4 were down five per cent and three per cent on a like for like basis.
Sales of Country Casuals - now rebranded as CC - for the period were down ten per cent, with like for like sales adrift six per cent. The Austin Reed business fared better, with total sales up three per cent and ahead by one per cent when stripping out the impact of new and refurbished stores.
Sales of casualwear and womenswear were said to have gone well.
In a statement to the company's annual meeting, Austin Reed said it remained confident that changes implemented in 2004 and over this year would pay off.
In its own AGM update, Luton-based Dolcis-to-Bay Trading company Alexon described the trading climate as "challenging".
Shares in Woolworths closed last night down 1.25p at 35.75p, while Austin Reed closed up 2p at 122p.