March sales did not get a boost from Easter trade
UK retail sales fell in March compared with a year earlier, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said.
Like-for-like sales, which do not include sales from new shops, fell 1.2% - the ninth fall in sales in the past 10 months.
The BRC said continued economic uncertainty was leading consumers to tighten their belts.
The fall was exacerbated by the fact that Easter fell in April this year but in March last year.
As a result, March's figures did not include the traditional boost from Easter sales.
Expensive items suffered the the most pronounced drop last month, with furniture sales falling to their lowest level in at least nine years.
Meaningful year-on-year comparisons were also made more difficult by the unusually cold weather in March last year, the BRC added.
"Customers are still worried about jobs and their own finances, so they are keeping spending under tight control," said Stephen Robertson, director general of the consortium, which compiled the figures along with consultancy firm KPMG.
But there were some sectors that saw sales increase.
Non-food internet, phone and mail-order sales, for example, jumped by 10.8%.
Food, clothing and footwear sales also rose slightly.
Total sales in March - which includes new store space - were up 0.6% from a year go.
"A slight air of pre-spring optimism tempted customers to buy new season clothing and women's footwear," said Mr Robertson.
"But this is unlikely to be the basis of any sustained improvement," he cautioned.