Retail sales showed “the biggest decline on record” for the month of May with even food sales dropping for the first time in nearly four years, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Like-for-like sales decreased by 3% compared to the same period in 2018, when they registered a 2.8% uptick year on year, according to the latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor. This was the steepest like-for-like decline since December 2008.

Total retail sales also plummeted by 2.7%, which, excluding Easter distortions, was the worst decline since the sales monitor began in January 1995. This was set against a 4.1% increase in total sales for May 2018, which was itself a four-year record.

Most worryingly for retailers, in-store sales of food increased just 0.8% on a like-for-like basis in the three months to May, below the 12-month total average growth of 2.5%.

In the same period, the in-store sales of non-food items fell by 2.7% both on a total and like-for-like basis. This was worse than the 12-month total average decline of 2.4%.

Online non-food sales grew 1.5% in May – an all-time low, against an 11.5% uptick in May 2018.

Ecommerce penetration rates increased to 30.3%, up from 28.2% in May 2018.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson warned that the decline in sales put the sector at risk of further job losses and closures.

She said: “With the biggest decline in retail sales on record, the risk of further job losses and store closures will only increase. While May 2018 offered almost unbroken sunshine, topped off by the run-up to the world cup and the marriage of Meghan and Harry, May 2019 delivered political and economic uncertainty. Food sales dropped for the first time since June 2016, with further declines in clothing, footwear and outdoor goods.”

She also called on the government to “act to support the successful reinvention of our high streets and local communities”.