UK retail sales fell for the second month in a row in November, according to figures published today (9 December) by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), as consumers continue to curb their spending in the run-up to Christmas.

The data showed total retail sales fell by 0.4% year-on-year in November - the first time since the survey began 14 years ago that sales have been down for two consecutive months.

On a like-for-like basis, sales fell 2.6%, compared with November 2007 when they rose 1.2%. Like-for-like sales have now fallen in eight out of the last nine months.

Despite extensive heavy discounting, clothing and footwear fell further below year-earlier levels, the BRC said.

Stephen Robertson, BRC director general, said: "The numbers speak for themselves - these are clearly tough times.

"Retailers will be hoping that customers have been putting off Christmas shopping - not cancelling it."

However, Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said November's figures could have been "negatively impacted" by consumers delaying purchases in the last week of the month while they waited for cuts in the VAT rate to be implemented.

More and more UK retailers have been turning to discounts and special promotional events in recent weeks to try to persuade Christmas shoppers to part with their cash.

Two of the biggest clothing sellers, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams have slashed prices by 20%.

The government also unveiled a package of emergency measures to attempt to kick-start the economy, including a 2.5% cut in VAT from 1 December 2008 until the end of 2009.

But the BRC says discounts and promotions only appear to work if customers perceive value or really need the product.