British retailers suffered their second weakest January since records started in 1995 as shoppers reined in spending after splashing out on December discounts, a British Retail Consortium survey showed on Tuesday.
The value of retail sales on a like-for-like basis - a measure favoured by equity analysts - was 0.3 percent lower on the year after a 2.2 percent rise the previous month.
Total sales, which include new floor space and are closer to the measure used in Britain's official statistics, grew 2.1 percent, down from a 4.1 percent annual rise.
Only in January 2010 was either measure weaker, and with inflation running at more than 4 percent, retail sales volumes are almost certainly down on a year earlier.
Customers parked their worries in December and spent, encouraged by discounts. Now, in the New Year, reality has bitten again as concerns about jobs, wages and household costs reassert themselves, said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.
Year-on-year sales comparisons also suffered because January 2011 saw unusually strong growth after heavy snow in December 2010 caused many purchases to be deferred.
The figures chime with a January 26 report from the Confederation of British Industry that showed the biggest fall in retail sales in nearly three years, and may reignite concerns that Britain's economy has entered recession.
Discount clothing retailer Peacocks, which has more than 1,000 stores, went into administration on January 18, and several smaller chains have fallen into difficulty.
Strong January PMI surveys for the manufacturing and non-retail services sectors last week gave a boost to economists' optimism, and caused some to scale back forecasts for the amount of stimulate asset purchases that the Bank of England will announce on Thursday.
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by John Stonestreet)