People kept their money close to their chests in August as spending fell, figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show.
On a like-for-like basis, sales fell by 0.6% in August compared with the same month in 2010.
Including sales at new stores, total sales jumped by 1.5% last month compared with a 2.8% rise in August 2010.
The BRC said that sales had increased at the beginning of the month as a result of the good weather enjoyed in the UK , but that it had not lasted long enough to make a lasting impact.
The body also said that the riots that shook the country had not been widespread or prolonged enough to have a real effect on the footfall in the UK 's shops.
While food sales remained relatively consistent with levels seen in July, non-food sales floundered, with homeware and footwear sales markedly down.
Consumers also appear to be reluctant to take the plunge with big ticket items unless they are heavily discounted.
Reflecting on the results, Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: " It remains a tale of two halves. The food sector has proved more resilient but non-food retail showed a marked decrease in sales year-on-year.
"Poor consumer confidence, high inflation and the on-going squeeze on personal finances remain the biggest threats to the retail sector."
The figures represent a blow for the economy and follow yesterday's announcement that the services sector saw the biggest fall in activity for a decade in August.
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