High Street sales were down compared to a year ago, according to 52 per cent of retailers surveyed in the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) Distributive Trades Survey, with a further drop predicted for May.
Only 25 per cent of retailers said sales were up, the weakest result since November 2005.
Similarly, 53 per cent of retailers said sales for this time of year were poor, while 15 per cent said they were good, making it the weakest since November 1992.
Slower sales have also affected suppliers, with orders falling to their lowest since November 2005 - a balance of -28.
However, the CBI said the results needed to be put into context. For 2007, Easter fell in April, during a mini heat wave, lifting the balance of retailers reporting year-on-year sales growth to its highest in three years. In 2008, the holiday fell in March when the weather was poor.
Ian McCafferty (pictured), chief economic adviser for CBI, said: "There is no doubt that consumers are tightening their belts as the mood about the economy and its outlook worsens. The trend in recent months has been one of slowing growth and now we've seen a fall in sales volumes, particularly so for goods related to the housing market.
"The survey needs to be seen in the context of the timing of Easter this year and the poor weather, which have further dampened sales this month. Nevertheless trading conditions are challenging for retailers and sales are expected to fall again in May, albeit at a slower rate."