Retail sales tumbled in April as more clement weather failed to offset ongoing non-food sales declines and the early arrival of Easter.

UK retail sales dropped 4.2% on a like-for-like basis in the four weeks to April 28, while total sales fell 3.1%, according to the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor.

The rate of decline in total sales during the month was the sharpest on record since the sales monitor’s inception in January 1995.

Both total and like-for-like sales metrics were distorted by the early timing of Easter this year and strong comparables during the same period the previous year, when like-for-likes were up 5.6% and total sales were up 6.3%.

Non-food sales fell 2.4% in like-for-like terms and 1.6% overall on a three-month basis, marking the sharpest decline since March 2009.

This sales slump was compounded by a 4.9% slump in non-food in-store like-for-like sales and 3.8% drop in total in-store non-food sales respectively.

Food sales increased 1.7% and 3% in like-for-like and total sales respectively, below the 12-month total average sales growth of 3.5%.

Non-food online sales increased 6.7% during the period against strong comparables, although this was below the three and 12-month averages of 7.1% and 7.5% respectively.

BRC and KPMG comment

BRC boss Helen Dickinson said: “With much of the spending in preparation for the Bank Holiday weekend falling in March this year, a record low in sales growth, in contrast to last year’s record high, does not come as a surprise.

“However, even once we take account of these seasonal distortions, the underlying trend in sales growth is heading downwards.

“The first glimpse of summer may have temporarily lifted clothing and footwear, but non-food sales overall continue to be weak.

“Consumers’ discretionary spending power remains under pressure and the reality is, that with only a gradual return to solid growth in real incomes expected, the market environment is likely to remain extremely challenging for most retailers.”

KPMG head of retail Paul Martin added: “April’s figures show retail sales growth falling off a cliff, with sales down 3.1% on last year, but we must exercise caution and remember that the timing of Easter makes meaningful month-on-month comparisons difficult.

“That said, the three-month average is more helpful to assess, but this too points to sales only growing modestly – these are indeed testing times for retailers.

“The upcoming months will provide a number of opportunities for retailers to drive sales and navigate this assault course, including bank holidays, World Cup and of course the Royal wedding, although it is clear that trading will remain challenging.”