An early Easter hit food and clothing sales last month, leaving high street trading stagnant.
The latest British Retail Consortium-KPMG report showed total retail spending was flat in March, compared to growth of 4.7% a year ago, while like-for-like sales slipped 0.7%.
It said trading was "distorted" by Easter falling late last month as opposed to April, which led food sales to also fall 0.7% in the three months to March, due to trading days lost to public holidays.
Fashion sales also posted their worst decline since September 2014, despite increased promotional activity, as customers delayed buying lighter items in colder weather.
The report also painted a grim picture of high street trading over the longer term.
It said the sector's rolling 12-month average growth slowed to 1.4%, its lowest since August 2015.
However, the report added that the sale of big ticket items such as furniture performed well over the period.
David McCorquodale, UK head of retail at accountants KPMG, said: "Earlier Easters are not always good for the fashion industry as consumers are put off purchases of lighter fashions and footwear in cooler temperatures and this was certainly the case this year.
"The grocery sector's drive for everyday low pricing and waste reduction contributed to the decline in food and drink sales, pulling the three-month average total sales into the negative."
British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: "Retail is an industry undergoing significant structural change as the investment in the digital offer continues apace while, from a consumer perspective, more disposable income is being spent on leisure and entertainment."
Mr McCorquodale added: "Looking ahead, retailers will be hoping for fewer April showers this month to entice spending on these newly launched ranges and to help alleviate the additional cost burden with the implementation of the national living wage."
This month the Government introduced the national living wage, which lifts the hourly minimum wage to £7.20 for over-25s from £6.50, and to at least £9 an hour by 2020.