UK retail sales figures fell 1.2 per cent during March compared to like-for-like figures last year, new figures show.
The drop is the ninth time in ten months sales figures were down on last year.
The British Retail Council and KPMG released the figures but admitted comparisons were problematic due to the unseasonable weather which battered the UK in March last year, and the fact that Easter fell in March in 2008, rather than April this year.
Total sales, which include new shops, increased by 0.6 per cent, and internet, mail-order and phone sales were 10.8 per cent up on March last year.
And food sales, clothing and footwear all showed signs of rallying despite the overall decline.
Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: "A slight air of pre-spring optimism tempted customers to buy new-season clothing and womens footwear.
"But this is unlikely to be the basis of sustained improvement. Customers are still worried about jobs and their own finances - so theyre keeping spending under tight control."
Helen Dickson, head of retail at KPMG, cautioned against long term predictions. She said: "We continue to see significant volatility in weekly and individual retailer performance, highlighting the need to remain cautious in drawing conclusions about the prospects for retail spending."