The CBI’s distributive trades survey of 117 firms found 29 per cent reported an increase in sales volumes on a year ago, while 27 per cent said they were down, giving a balance of positive 2 per cent.
The figures came as the owner of women’s fashion brand Jacques Vert scrambled to find investment to stave off administration, putting nearly 1,900 jobs under threat.
Style Group Brands is seeking backers or a buyer in the next few days as the threat of collapse looms large.
Private-equity owner Sun European Partners appointed KPMG earlier this year to look at a possible sale or restructuring and it is understood that KPMG would be appointed as administrator if efforts to secure financial investment fail.
Style Group, which also owns womenswear labels including Windsmoor and Dash, employs 1,888 staff across more than 1,850 shops in 470 locations spanning the UK, Europe and Canada.
The firm describes itself as the largest womenswear concession retailer, with a presence in department stores including Debenhams and House of Fraser. It was formed from the merger of Jacques Vert and Irisa Group in 2012.
The CBI’s figure was a significant slowdown from last month’s balance of positive 38 per cent, the highest since September 2015’s 49 per cent on the back of warm weather and the late Easter. At the same time, retailers’ average selling prices rose at their fastest pace since May 2011.
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The clothing sector saw a sharp slowdown and grocers’ sales were flat after two months of growth. Retailers expect their overall business situation to deteriorate over the next three months, the survey found.
The CBI said the “tepid trading conditions” were taking their toll on hiring and investment within the sector.