Sales in the UK high street during May took their biggest slump in 24 years amid political and economic uncertainty, according to the latest data from the British Retail Consortium.
On a total basis, sales for the month declined by 2.7%.
Excluding Easter distortions, that was the worst drop since January 1995, when the BRC began recording figures.
The consortium pointed out that the sales drop came against a 4.1% rise in the same period last year – a record rise in itself.
Like-for like, the fall in May from the previous year was 3%, having risen by 2.8% in the previous year.
Again excluding Easter distortions, the fall was the biggest like-for-like drop since December 2008.
In the three months to May, non-food items fell 2.7% both on a like-for like and total basis.
Food sales dropped for the first time since June 2016, with further declines in clothing, footwear and outdoor goods.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson warned that the retail sales slump signalled the risk of further job losses and store closures.
Several UK retailers have gone bust this year – including HMV, Debenhams and LK Bennett, as the adverse conditions facing the high street from last year have so far showed no signs of letting up.
“While May 2018 offered almost unbroken sunshine, topped off by the run up to the World Cup and the marriage of Meghan and Harry, May 2019 delivered political and economic uncertainty,” Ms Dickinson added.
She said: “With retail conditions the toughest they have been for a decade, politicians must act to support the successful reinvention of our high streets and local communities.”
“Business rates remain a barrier, preventing many retailers from investing in their physical space. We have a broken tax system, which sees retailers paying vast sums of money regardless of whether they make a penny at the till, and yet the government is failing to act. The legislation is falling behind the technological revolution.”
Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, pointed out that growth in online sales was also slower than usual.
He warned: “The extremely low growth online is real cause for concern, especially with almost a third of all non-food sales today being made online.
“This trend has continued to manifest itself over the last year and requires real focus from the retail community.”