Retail sales volume fell 0.6 per cent month on month in May and was down 1.6 per cent year on year, ONS data showed. Sales by value were down 1.1 per cent compared with May 2008.

On a three-month basis, volumes rose by 0.6 per cent year on year and 0.3 per cent compared with the previous three-period.

Predominantly-food stores’ volume fell 1.3 per cent year on year and rose 0.3 per cent month on month.

Predominantly non-food stores suffered a 3 per cent decline year on year, headed by household goods, which was down 6.5 per cent. Fashion and shoe stores’ volume slipped 2.2 per cent.

Month on month, predominantly non-food shops’ volume was down 1.4 per cent, spearheaded by the “other-stores” category, which was down 3 per cent. Clothing and footwear fell 1.9 per cent.

Barclays Commercial Bank head of retail and wholesale Richard Lowe said: “Retail sales are in a holding pattern. Expectations of a positive increase this month have not been met.

“However, looking at the numbers over the past nine months, evidence suggests that retail sales numbers are moving sideways.”

He said that sterling’s recovery against the dollar will help those retailers that have budgeted to operate beneath the current exchange levels.

Stock levels are being well controlled, Lowe believes. He said: “The need for aggressive marketing and wide-scale reductions called for in post-Christmas Sales will not been requisite in the summer Sale season now upon us.”