High street retailers suffered a bleak bank holiday weekend as footfall dropped nearly 13% over the period.
The poor trading means next week will be make or break for many retailers relying on the back-to-school season to boost sales.
According to figures from retail analyst FootFall, shopper numbers were down 18.4% on Saturday, usually the busiest day of the week. Footfall over the three-day period from Saturday to Monday was down 12.7% on the same period last year.
Many retailers told Drapers they had experienced a dip in like-for-like sales as good weather kept shoppers away from the high street, dashing hopes of a late summer spending spree.
Bonmarche brand director Mark Tesseyman said the slump followed a busy August. "Sales were down, although not as bad as FootFall's figures would suggest. But we saw double-digit growth during the rest of August," he said.
The boss of one footwear chain said: "Trading was bad during the bank holiday, although it was against tough comparisons last year. I think everyone found it hard, from department stores to smaller players. People were sunbathing rather than shopping, and not even the back-to-school rush brought them out."
Some retailers had prepared themselves for a sluggish weekend. Nick Samuel, chief executive of womenswear retailer Hobbs, said: "We did experience some of the drop in footfall, but not as bad as 13%. We knew on Thursday when we saw the weather forecast that it would be a quiet weekend and we set our expectations accordingly."
Many retailers are pinning their hopes on next week's trading to help boost sales of back-to-school clothing, which traditionally hits its peak over the August bank holiday weekend.
One footwear retailer said he was banking on a mad rush this weekend. He added: "Last week was awful, but it wasn't totally comparable with last year. We need to wait another week to assess the overall back-to-school season."
A John Lewis spokeswoman said: "Because of the late summer this year, we are expecting a later peak in back-to-school sales. Our peak sales week is next week."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Woolworths said the retailer was "gearing up for a busy weekend and start to next week".