Retail sales “flatlined” in August despite a leap in food and drink purchases thanks to good summer weather, according to industry figures.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG said greater economic and political uncertainty took its toll on demand on all sectors last month.
They said that despite discounting on the high street, the number of shoppers venturing out continued to lag as the UK’s departure from the EU remains up in the air.
Their Retail Sales Monitor showed that, on a like-for-like basis, UK retail sales fell 0.5% in August compared with the same month a year ago.
Grocery sales growth was credited to preparations for the Bank Holiday weekend that saw temperatures surge.
The BRC reissued its appeal for further government help to help the high street – particularly over the thorny issue of business rates – as stores continue to feel pressure from a toxic cocktail of weak consumer confidence and high costs.
The past 18 months has seen a series of high profile failures while scores of other chains have sought rescue deals to help cut their bills.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Greater economic and political uncertainty has driven down consumer demand.
“While the summer weather gave a small boost to food sales, this was cancelled out by a drop in non-food sales.
“Summer discounting and poor footfall have hit in-store sales particularly hard.
“If the government wants to avoid seeing further store closures and job losses on the UK high street, they must take action.”
The figures emerged as economists ponder whether the UK is nearing recession following the first fall in quarterly output in seven years during the second quarter of the year.
Consumer spending has been credited with being largely responsible for the UK’s post-crisis recovery.
Susan Barratt, chief executive of the IGD food and drink trade body, suggested there was no sign of households stockpiling in case of a no-deal Brexit.
She said: “Food and grocery sales moved back into positive territory in August with year-on-year growth, thanks considerably to the approaching Bank Holiday heatwave.
“As August progressed, the October Brexit deadline received increasing attention but only 3% of shoppers say they’ve begun to build stocks for this purpose: not enough to show through in the total sector sales.”