More than half of the retailers questioned said November sales volumes were down on a year ago, while 17 per cent said theirs were up, giving a balance of -35 per cent.
Asda executive director John Longworth, and chairman of the CBI's Distributive Trades Survey, said: 'Any hopes retailers had of an early Christmas present have been dashed. Consumers have been extremely reluctant to spend money. Shops will be crossing their fingers that the predicted cold spell and the rapid approach of Christmas drives people through their doors and gets the tills ringing.
'Prices are being cut and this, coupled with the escalation in fuel prices, will see margins put under serious pressure. The consumer spending slowdown is impacting on the economy as a whole and is of real concern to businesses across the board.'
In terms of sectors, only confectionery, tobacco and news retailers reported improved sales. Grocers, who had not reported a decline in sales growth since September last year, recorded year-on-year sales figures balanced at -24 per cent.
Seymour Pierce retail analyst Richard Ratner said of the survey: 'It only covers just over the first two weeks of the month, and from anecdotal evidence there was a huge pick up in clothing sales in the last two weeks of the month.'