Retail sales suffered their biggest annual fall in nearly three years this month as shoppers tightened their purse strings post-Christmas.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) distributive trades survey’s balance for reported sales volumes plunged to -22 in January from +9 in December, its lowest level since March 2009, when Britain was last in recession.

The figures came a day after official data showed the economy contracted by 0.2% in the last three months of 2011, raising fears that the country was entering recession – and its first double-dip since the 1970s.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said: “Today’s CBI distributive trades survey provides the first glimpse of retail conditions in January, and confirm fears that consumers retrenched after a mini spending spree in December. Aggressive discounting helped push up sales in the run-up to Christmas, but the New Year has started with something of a hangover on the high street.”