The British Retail Consortium says like for like sales dropped 3.5% in March compared to last year, the steepest fall since April 2005.
Total sales, including new stores and space, slumped 1.9%, the worst drop recorded since the BRC started collecting data in 1995.
Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, says the figures provide “strong evidence of the pressure customers and traders are under.”
He adds: “Uncomfortably high inflation and low wage growth have produced the first year-on-year fall in disposable incomes for 30 years.”
Separate data from the Office of National Statistics later today (12 April) is expected to confirm that inflation held steady at 4.4%, double the Bank of England’s target of 2.2%
Internet sales continue to outperform the high street but growth slowed to 7.5% in March, down from the 10.4% bump registered in February.