Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said it looked like the modest sales revival seen in September was something of a "false dawn".
The disappointing figures are a reminder of the difficult economic realities many are still facing.
Falling consumer confidence means people are limiting spending to essential items and are cautious about committing to big-ticket and discretionary buying.
More top news
A tourist who ran into a hail of bullets to help save victims of the Tunisia massacre has given an emotional recount of the attack.
The American presidential hopeful and property developer is paying for unsavoury comments about Mexican immigrants.
Too many patients who undergo emergency bowel surgery are dying because of inconsistent care practices, health experts have warned.