December saw the worst sales performance since the financial crash in 2008, according to figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
December's like-for-like sales dropped by 0.4% as retailers experienced a post-Black Friday lull, compared with a 0.9% lift for November.
The BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor reported a 1% rise in total sales. This was also the weakest December performance since 2008, when sales tumbled 3.3% amid the collapse of the banking sector.
David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, said the US-inspired Black Friday of flash sales was followed by a "challenging lull in spending" as consumers waited for future bargains.
"This difficult stop/start sales environment has been undoubtedly challenging, but most retailers have managed to achieve a flat, but respectable, sales performance this Christmas. Time will tell on margins," he said.
Food sales were "modest" as they fell 0.3% in the three months to December. This was improvement from a 1.7% low in September.
"The grocers had rather a commendable Christmas, given the persistent price deflation that has dogged the sector throughout the year," McCorquodale said.
He said the launch of Boxing Day sales, and new season full-price stock, helped rescue the situation, particularly for fashion retailers, which had their best sales performance since August.