By Marcus Leach

UK retail sales values were 0.6% lower on a like-for-like basis from October 2010, when sales had risen 0.8%. On a total basis, sales were up 1.5%, against a 2.4% increase in October 2010.

Food sales growth slowed and non-food sales also weakened, with big-ticket items suffering most. Clothing and footwear were hit by the unseasonably mild weather. Homewares remained tough and often deal-driven. Uncertain prospects for personal finances and the economy continued to make shoppers careful, giving priority to essentials and replacements over discretionary items.

Non-food non-store (internet, mail-order and phone) sales growth picked up a little in October after falling back in September. Sales were 11.5% up on a year ago, more than the 10.1% in September but less than in August and than the 12.8% in October 2010.

"Which part of the wave we're riding varies from month to month but the water is consistently chilly," Stephen Robertson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said.

"For a fifth month, total sales growth continues its strangely regular flip-flopping between 2.5 and 1.5 per cent. But, the year-to-date figure, which smooths out these minor moves, is unchanged from the previous month. This is evidence of the basic weakness of consumer confidence and demand and worrying this close to Christmas.

"Underneath the headline figure, the year-to-date results show almost no growth in non-food sales. Allowing for the VAT rise since last year, that suggests a substantial drop in sales volumes while the food figures indicate very little volume growth. It's clear customers are cutting back whatever they're buying.

"A lasting lift in consumers' mood needs a sense that better times will come for jobs, costs and incomes. The Chancellor should use this month's Autumn Statement to help customers and businesses by offering hope over next year's planned fuel duty and business rates increases."

Helen Dickinson, Head of Retail, KPMG, said that the continuing eurozone problems mean UK consumers are becoming increasingly wary of their finances.

"With so much uncertainty across European and global markets, UK consumers remain reticent as their personal finances become harder to manage," she said.

"The beginning of the month continued with the trend we saw at the end of September: the warm weather helped to boost food sales to the detriment of clothing and other non-food sectors. By the end of the month the gap narrowed, food growth slowed and non-food retrieved some of the momentum lost over the previous few weeks. The month overall saw ongoing challenges for big-ticket items and continued high levels of volatility across individual weeks and different sectors.

"But one constant remains: to whatever extent sales are being made, margins and hence profits are being impacted to stimulate demand as retailers strive to cope with the new reality. The success of the Christmas season for retailers hangs in the balance as October's results do not set a strong foundation."

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