Sales volumes were up for 31 per cent of retailers in the survey, but down for 40 per cent, resulting in a negative value of 9 per cent. This compares with a positive result of 2 per cent for February.
Some 10 per cent of retailers said that volumes were good for the time of year, against 47 per cent that said that volumes were poor. This results in a negative value of 37 per cent - the lowest recorded by the CBI since 1992.
Household goods, white goods and DVD players showed the fastest year-on-year growth in the month. Furniture and carpets reported the sharpest year-on-year fall in volumes, followed by hardware, china and DIY.
CBI head of economic analysis Doug Godden said: 'Retailers had been expecting stronger sales growth in March, but for the third month in a row volumes failed to meet expectations. Some of this poor performance might be attributed to the wintry weather at the start of March and a reluctance for consumers to spend ahead of the Budget. But there is no doubt that sales growth has slowed on an underlying basis since the turn of the year.'