UK retail sales failed to grow in November, adding to fears that consumers are reining in spending ahead of the festivities period.
Sales volumes were flat in November compared with October, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in latest figures published here Thursday.
They had been expected to bounce back after October's shock 0.8% fall.
The one bright spot was in household goods stores, where sales rose by 3.8% on the month, including consumer electrical items. However this failed to offset a 0.1% drop in both food sales and sales of clothes and shoes.
Year-on-year sales volumes rose by 0.9%.
Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of gross domestic product (GDP) in the UK.
The ONS figures increase the chance that the UK economy will contract in the last three months of 2012, something the Bank of England has already said is likely.
This year has seen a number of casualties on the High Street, the latest being electrical retailer Comet, whose last stores closed this week.
British Retail Consortium director-general Helen Dickinson told The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that the coming weekend would be crucial for retailers.
"With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, this weekend will be the critical one - I'm expecting a last-minute rush but overall in sales terms it will be neither a bumper Christmas nor a disaster," she said.