Official figures last week showed that retail sales rose by a sharper than expected 0.7% in February, suggesting that consumers were "spending the windfall" from lower food and oil prices. But the BDO High Street Sales Tracker said evidence from the Office for National Statistics data had "largely failed to materialise amongst many high street retailers", with the exception of big-ticket lifestyle and furniture retailers.
The fashion sector was the poorest performer last month, with like-for-like sales falling 5.5% due to low footfall levels on high streets and in retail parks. Fashion retailers were also affected by a fall in widespread discounting, which resulted in a drop in sales.
Less discounting has kept consumers away from stores meaning high street sales suffered their sharpest monthly fall in more than three years in March.
The BDO High Street Sales Tracker said like-for-like sales fell by 4% compared to a year ago, the greatest monthly drop since September 2011, due to lower footfall levels and a slide in discounting from a year ago.
The result reflects a tough comparison against 2014, which saw the best March performance for four years as much of the country enjoyed unseasonably warm temperatures following a flood-hit February.
With Christmas shopping season in full swing, an increasing number of retailers are using flash sales, which offer heavy discounts but typically last only a few hours.
More than £360,000 a minute is expected to be spent this week on what has become known as 'Black Friday'.
ITV News reporter Rebecca Barry has found the sales are already under way:
Shop vacancies in Britain dropped to a three-year low in 2013, although some northern regions saw numbers rise compared to 2012.
Vacancies dropped to below 14 per cent last year, down from 14.6 per cent in February 2012, said a report by the Local Data Company.
But the proportion of empty shops rose in the north east and north west to a combined average of 17 per cent - nearly 5 per cent higher than the average of 12.2 per cent.
Seven out of 10 of the worst performing regions were in the north east or north west, while six out of the 10 best were in Greater London.
Young disabled shoppers reported being put off shopping in the high street by the attitude they encountered from shop staff, a new poll has revealed.
The small poll of 500 people aged 16 to 30 who suffer from a disability also found that nearly half are put off revisiting local shops because of how staff treat them; some said they felt "invisible" after being ignored by staff who instead address their companions or carers.
The poll was launched as the charity's "Trailblazers", a group of disabled campaigners aged 16 to 30, released a list of top tips for high street businesses on how they could provide better practical support to disabled customers.
Young people polled by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign described the stress of a trip into town to buy new clothes requiring the planning and energy of a "military operation."
Teenager Laura Bizzey, from Snape, Suffolk, said that her muscle condition, minicore myopathy, means she "always" encounters problems when out shopping. The 17-year-old said:
Three quarters of disabled young people feel unable to go shopping because of a lack of access around their town centre, a new poll from the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign found.
Seventy five per cent of those polled said they feel confined to shop online because they are unable to get around the town.
Millions of last-minute Christmas shoppers flocked to the high street today in one of the busiest retail weekends of the year.
Some stores cut their prices in an attempt to boost sales on the final Saturday before Christmas.
Sally Eden, head of communications for the New West End Company, representing 600 retailers in Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said: "There's a sense of urgency because Christmas is coming and this is the last weekend.
"It's the first time many people who have been working can get to the shops. There's also a sense they are looking to make their money go further".
Major high street stores are dropping their prices for the final weekend before Christmas. Here are some of the deals:
- Marks & Spencer - 30% off clothing
- Austin Reed - 25-60% off all womenswear
- House of Fraser - 50% off selected lines
- Argos - 50% off selected toys
- BHS - 50% off selected homeware
Marks & Spencer will discount its clothing line by 30% in a last-minute "Mega Day" sale this weekend, as other high street retailers drop prices to entice Christmas shoppers and bargain-hunters.
However, a retail analyst said he believes that the move is likely to hurt the brand by irritating loyal customers who paid full price in recent weeks.
The retailer is under particular scrutiny as embattled boss Marc Bolland hopes for an improvement in the store's struggling womenswear division.