Clothing retailers suffered their biggest sales drop in two years as demand wilted in the UK's mini heatwave, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said today.
Scorching conditions in many parts of the UK meant shoppers shunned autumn and winter ranges, although with food shops helped by barbecue weather sales overall rose by 0.3% last month on a like-for-like basis against a year ago.
BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said that in tough times the industry should be "thankful" for the improvement in September over August's 0.6% decline, but conditions remain weak and spending growth below inflation means customers are buying less than this time last year.
Taken across the three months to the end of September, the BRC said food sales were up by 2.1%, with non-food sales down by 1.4%.
September's clothing sales "worsened sharply" to show their largest year-on-year fall since August 2009, the BRC said.
It added: "The heatwave hit sales of autumn and winter ranges, but neither did people want to buy more summer clothes. Women's and men's suffered most while childrenswear benefited from a last-minute back-to-school boost."
The BRC did not give the percentage decline but said the clothing sector had dropped from the second best performer in August to the second worst in September.
A slower start to food sales in the changeable first few weeks of the month was offset by the unseasonably warm and sunny weather in the last week.
"This drove salads, fresh fruit, barbecue foods, ice cream and soft drinks," the BRC said. "Promotions continued to do well as shoppers remained cautious and looked for value and attractive offers."
Total sales in September rose by 2.5% and for the quarter were 2.2% ahead of this time in 2010, but Mr Robertson said growth has been "flipping" between 1.5% and 2.5% for four months and in the year to date like-for-like growth is "zero".
Helen Dickinson, head of retail at accountant KPMG, which helps compile the survey, added: "The food sector proved again to be more resilient than other sectors although, with the new academic year starting, schoolwear and shoes also did well."
Home accessories, house textiles as well as toiletries and cosmetics showed signs of improvement but the squeeze on consumer incomes again hit demand for big ticket items.
Online sales rose 10.1% on a year ago but were down from growth of 12.6% in August.
Ms Dickinson added: "As we are entering the crucial season in the run-up to Christmas, the outlook may be described as 'hopeful' but that's as good as it gets."