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The BRC survey revealed that retailers are still putting on special offers and discounts to tempt consumers wary of spending in the current economic climate.
The wet weather hit sales of gardening products, such as lawnmowers, plants and tools, but indoor DIY was mixed as people improved their homes with small purchases but shied away from so-called "big ticket items", such as fitted kitchens and bathrooms.
The situation for electronics items remained challenging despite TV sales gaining a boost from the digital switchover in the South East, and strong demand for the new iPad and the Kindle.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said retailers, who have been hurt by the squeeze on consumers' spending power in recent years, are hoping that the diamond jubilee, Olympics and Euro 2012 football championships in coming months will boost demand and help the "feel-good factor" return.
Online retailers also saw demand slow amid the dreary weather.
Supermarkets felt the pain despite the cold weather boosting sales of winter warmers, such as hot drinks, porridge, meat for stewing and soup.
However, there was a brighter side to the figures, with sales of floor coverings and homewares, such as bedding, linen and lighting, receiving a boost as the depressing weather prompted people to invest in their homes.
Like-for-like sales dropped a "disappointing" 3.3%, the worst performance since March 201, driven by "substantial" falls for clothes retailers and the worst footwear trading since January 2008, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.
The trend was made worse because many shoppers had already splurged on summerwear during the March heatwave, while the period was up against tough comparatives with the previous year when hot weather and the Royal Wedding boosted sales of partywear and food.
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April was the cruellest month for British retailers, particularly clothes and shoe shops.