The full impact of last month's snow on festive trading was laid bare in a key survey, as the department store chain Debenhams said it lost £30m of sales to the weather.
On the same day, the grocer Morrisons delivered a solid 1% rise in like-for-like sales, excluding VAT and fuel, supporting the view that supermarkets had a good Christmas.
But in the first big snapshot of festive trading, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and accountancy firm KPMG survey yesterday found that underlying sales fell by 0.3% in December.
Stephen Robertson, the director general of the BRC, said: "The unusually early winter weather made a difficult Christmas worse. With mounting concerns about the impact of spending cuts and the wider economy, sales growth has been weak since last summer."
December's sales compare with growth of 4.2% for the same month in 2009, although this was flattered by a dreadful December 2008 at the peak of the recession.
While last month's snow dampened trading for all retailers, the true depth of its impact has divided opinion in the retail sector. Department stores John Lewis and House of Fraser posted scorching sales over Christmas, but retailers from maternity specialist Mothercare to entertainment group HMV blamed severe weather for profits warnings.
The BRC said that total sales, which include price increases and new stores, rose by 1.5% in December, although there were clear winners and losers. While food growth slowed a little, non-food had a "much tougher time", with consumer fears over jobs and incomes hitting sales of big ticket items in particular, said the BRC.
Helen Dickinson, the head of retail at KPMG, said: "December is the biggest month of the year with volumes 20% to 30% higher than other months. Very disappointingly, without the impact of the arctic weather the results would have been noticeably better."
On the ground, Debenhams delivered a 1.3% fall in like-for-like sales for the 19 weeks to January 8. But Rob Templeman, chief executive of Debenhams, said the snow had hit trading in its department stores, particularly in Scotland and Ireland. On some snow-affected days, sales at certain stores fell by up to 97.5% to just £10,000, compared to between £300,000 and £400,000 last year.