The volume of retail sales excluding petrol was down 1% in February on the previous month, while value, excluding petrol, was down 0.4% according to the Office of National Statistics.

Compared to the same month a year earlier, volume excluding petrol was up 1.2% and value was up 3.5%.

Food volumes were down 0.4% on the previous month, and non-food volumes were down 1.6%. Textile, clothing and footwear stores were down 1.3% while household goods stores were down 2.5%.

By value, food stores were down 0.3% on the previous month, while non-food stores were down 0.7%.

Richard Lowe, head of retail & wholesale at Barclays Corporate, said: “Sales volumes were weaker than expected last month as the squeeze on consumers’ disposable incomes continued to be felt by retailers. Food retailers were hit hard as the rising cost of commodities pushed up prices in the shops.

“As petrol prices soar on the back of high oil prices, the Chancellor’s decision to reduce duty on the price of petrol by 1p may offer some comfort to retailers trying to tempt consumers into their cars and to out-of-town shopping centres and retail parks.  But as pressure on household budgets mount and with no let up in the austerity measures from the Chancellor’s Budget, trading will continue to be challenging.”

Director general of the British Retail Consortium, Stephen Robertson, said: “After a boost in January from one-off factors, including a final burst of pre VAT-rise spending, February’s figures are a more realistic picture of how things are for consumers and for retailers.

“Customers are seriously concerned about jobs and mounting pressures on their own finances. Food spending is holding up. It’s sales of things like clothing and household goods that are struggling most.

“On their own the changes to fuel costs announced in the Budget won’t make a huge difference to people’s pockets but should give a boost to struggling consumer confidence. Helping customers feel happier about the future, and emphasising growth plans as well as the cuts agenda, is crucial to boosting the retail sector which is in turn vital to the recovery.”