Retailers' like-for-like sales fell for the first time in two years in March, with clothing and footwear sales their worst for eight years.

According to the BRC, sales fell 1.6 per cent on a comparable basis, and total sales were down 1.1 per cent. The like-for-like decline came despite Easter falling in March, compared with April last year, which would have been expected to pull sales forward.

Furniture continued to slide, while DIY and garden retailers were hit by the bad weather. Food sales slowed after a strong run but, along with homewares, was the only sector not to experience a fall in sales against last year.

“Here is the strongest evidence yet that customers are making serious economies and are increasingly concerned about the future,” said BRC director-general Stephen Robertson. “It is further proof that trading is extremely tough, but retailers are fighting back by keeping prices low and delivering extra value.”