Hopes for a continuing pre-Christmas sales revival were dashed today amid signs that consumers are still limiting spending to essential items.
In its worst figures outside of a seasonal period for 11 months, the British Retail Consortium said October's UK retail sales were 0.1% lower on a like-for-like basis than a year ago, ending the modest revival seen in September.
The figures heighten nerves in the sector ahead of the festive period, particularly after the collapse of electricals chain Comet.
Total sales, including new stores, were up 2% compared with 2.5% in July last year, while the three-month rolling average shows growth of like-for-like non-food sales outpacing food sales for the first time.
So-called big-ticket items such as furniture and household appliances continue to struggle to sell with growth being promotion-driven.
Online, mail-order and phone sales of non-food items show stronger growth, up 15.6% against growth of 9.6% last year.
Retailers suffered a "lacklustre" July as expectations of an Olympic boost appear to be "wide of the mark", a leading survey shows.
Sales values edged 0.1% higher on a like-for-like basis in July, compared with a 0.6% rise in the same month last year, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG research said.
Warm weather in the final week and a slight boost from Olympic fever helped support food and drink sales but it was not enough to offset the impact of lower prices and wet weather earlier in the month.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) Director General Stephen Robertson, has said that although the build up to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was a useful boost to the retail figures, it was the sun that sent the shoppers to the high street.
He said: “The seemingly shy sunshine, hardly seen since March, had created pent-up demand for summer goods which was finally unleashed. Modest sales of coats and carpets gave way to much better sales of T-shirts and barbecues as interest finally turned outdoors."
The BRC’s own figures, published two weeks ago, showed year-on-year growth of 3.4 per cent for May 2012.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, has said a decent bounce back in retail sales would mean the economy "may still have a fighting chance" of avoiding further economic contraction in the second quarter.
According to official figures, total retail sales volumes plunged by a worse-than-expected 2.3% in April as the record rainfall dampened demand for clothing, although this was distorted by a record plunge in petrol and diesel sales.
A BRC survey also showed that Britain's high streets witnessed the worst decline in shopper numbers since November 2009 in April.
UK retail sales by value were up 1.3% on a like-for-like basis in May, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have said.
According tthe BRC, children's clothing was the stand-out performer, while women's clothing sales were the strongest of the year so far as sales of outerwear, knitwear and jeans turned to summer dresses, skirts and swimwear as the month progressed.
Men's clothing was also up on last year as shorts, casual jerseys and swimwear sold well.
Much of the month's positive performance can be attributed to spending in the final week when consumers responded enthusiastically to the sun coming out."
– British Retail Consortium, Director General, Stephen Robertso