Sales fell in May according to the BRC, with like-for-likes down 2.1% and total sales down 0.3%.

The figures are significant because it was the first month since February that the sales figures weren’t distorted by the timing of bank holidays.

On a three-month weighted average basis, non-food like-for-likes were down 2% - despite higher VAT - and food sales up 1.9%.

Growth in online and catalogue sales slowed in May, up 10.4% against strong comparatives from last year.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson highlighted that the second half of the month was worse than the first, as the weather turned cold and wet, but blamed the poor performance on “customers’ fundamental reluctance to spend.”

Food and drink was the only category to grow sales during May, while sales of “house textiles” remained flat. All other sectors of retail were in decline. The worst performing category was furniture and floorcoverings, where “sales dropped back sharply” and “forward orders gave serious cause for concern” as consumers put off big-ticket purchases.