LONDON British retail sales slowed sharply in October as Britons limited spending to essentials such as food and drink, the British Retail Consortium said on Tuesday, dampening hopes that consumers will drive the economic recovery.
Like-for-like retail sales - a measure that strips out changes in floor space and is favoured by equity analysts - fell by 0.1 percent in value terms on the year, the BRC said, making October one of the worst months for the sector this year.
Total retail sales - a measure used more by economists and which is closer to that found in official statistics - rose 1.1 percent on the year, slowing from a 3.4 percent growth in September.
"The disappointing figures are a reminder of the difficult economic realities many are still facing," said BRC Director Stephen Robertson.
"Falling consumer confidence means people are limiting spending to essential items and are cautious about committing to big-ticket and discretionary buying," he said.
Britain has exited the recession with better-than-expected economic growth of 1 percent in the third quarter.
However, consumer confidence fell to its lowest in six months in October, highlighting the fragility of Britain's recovery, a survey by researchers GfK NOP showed last week.
Recent energy and food price increases have stoked fears that the inflation rate -- which fell to 2.2 percent in September -- will not fall further, leaving many Britons' budgets squeezed as wages barely rise.
Sales of food and drink remained steady, with Britons stocking up seasonal food like hot soups and roasted beef as squeezed incomes saw many opting to stay indoors, the BRC said.
Clothing and footwear saw a boost at the beginning of the month as consumers filled their wardrobes with jumpers, coats and trousers, the BRC said. However, sales tailed off towards the end of the month as many shoppers became more careful again.
"The recession may officially be over but it will take a little longer for consumers to feel they can spend freely again," said David McCorquodale, Head of Retail at consultancy KPMG, which conducts the survey together with the BRC.
"The disappointing sales figures for October indicate that winning share of the Christmas wallet will be just as competitive over the next two months as it was last year," he added.
(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang; Editing by Toby Chopra)