Department stores and household goods contributed to a fall in retail sales, the fastest drop since January 2012.

According to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trends Survey, 22% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in April on a year ago, whilst 36% said they were down, giving a rounded balance of -13%.

Despite the decline, retailers were optimistic that sales would pick up, with sales growth expected to rebound in the year to May (+9%), although it remains below the long-run average of +24%.

A number of sub-sectors saw reduced sales volumes: particularly in the non-specialised sector – which includes department stores at -48%.

Meanwhile, growth in the volume of internet sales slowed in the year to April, with the survey balance falling further below the long run average. Internet sales growth is set to pick up slightly in May.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI director of economics, said: “Cold weather put a chill in sales of spring and summer ranges with a reported dip in retail sales in the year to April, but with the near-term outlook for household spending holding up the sector expects a modest rise in sales next month.

“However with margins remaining tight within the sector, retailers will continue to operate in a fiercely competitive environment for some time.”