The Retailers Association says people are spending conservatively in the last days before Christmas.
Figures from Paymark, the company that manages threequarters of electronic card transactions, show the value of sales fell by 0.8% compared with a year ago.
Retailers Association southern manager Brian Finlayson says while recent wet weather has had an effect, the numbers reinforce a downward trend in consumer spending across the country.
Mr Finlayson says retailers have had to spend a lot to get through the recession and are now finding it hard to afford stock.
He says some retailers, such as those selling books and specialty foods, are recording marked growth - up 5% and 18% respectively.
But spending at CD stores is down by more than 20% and for many other areas, such as jewellery and big-ticket items, there is little or no growth.