April retail sales fell more than expected as Britons had less spare cash to spend on major items or luxuries, a recent CBI report suggests.
The report reveals that while 33% of retailers reported a rise in sales volumes compared with a year earlier, 39% reported a fall.
That gave a balance of -6%, which was worse than the -4% forecast by economists and lower than the zero balance reported in March.
Grocers fared badly, reporting the first year-on-year fall in sales since November, while sales of furniture, carpets, clothing and shoes rose according to the CBI's distributive trades survey.
"The situation on our high streets remains fragile. Consumers are still holding off from buying bigger ticket items, and opting to spend on smaller 'treat' purchases that give them a lift without breaking the budget," said Judith McKenna, chief operating officer at Asda and chair of the survey panel.
Despite the fall in sales, shop owners predicted a better May, and optimism rose to its highest level since February 2011. McKenna said there was hope that lower inflation would encourage consumers to spend more in the coming months, but warned that life would remain difficult for UK households.
"If, as expected, inflation falls further later this year, we may see some growth in retail sales but as long as high unemployment and sluggish wage growth dampen confidence, spending will remain tight," she said.
Wholesalers enjoyed a rise in sales in April, with a balance of 29pc reporting an increase, but at a slower rate for a second month.
The sector was more gloomy about the outlook, expecting sales to fall in May.
There was no pick-up in consumer confidence last month, according to GfK NOP, whose monthly index of sentiment was unchanged at -31 in April.