Retail sales suffered their biggest fall in three years in January, according to the CBI Distributives Trades Survey.

Nearly half (44%) of retailers saw sales volumes fall in January compared with last year, while 22% reported a rise, giving a balance of -22%.

This was the lowest since March 2009, although the CBI said it was broadly in lien with expectations, which was -18%.

Retailers reported that sales were “disappointing” for the time of year.

Orders were down, according ot 14% of retailers surveyed, and 23% expect a fall again next month.

80% of hardware and DIY store groups reported a fall in sales volumes, compared with 34% of department stores.

However, 6% of grocers experienced a rise in sales volumes in January. Half of non-store retailers reported a rise in sales.

CBI chief economic adviser Ian McCafferty  said: “Shoppers have reined-in spending across the board at the start of the New Year after taking advantage of early discounting last month, which boosted pre-Christmas sales.

“Family budgets are under continuing pressure with inflation still high and wage increases modest.

“Consumers are still holding off particularly from buying big ticket items like washing machines and fridges. Online and mail order sales were the only areas that performed well in January, but growth was still down on last month.”

Barclays Corporate head of retail & wholesale Richard Lowe said: “January was always going to be a slow month and coupled with this week’s GDP figures there is little to boost the current mood on the high street.

“However, retailers have been here before, back in 2008/2009, when the UK economy previously shrank.

“ The difference this time is that retailers are running with tighter stock levels, many have sorted out their capital structures and everyone is working hard to preserve margins”.