Retail sales fell according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC). BRC said total sales fell 0.1%, marking the first annual sales decline since 1995.
Sales in November and December were particularly weak, falling 0.9%, BRC said. A separate report from Barclaycard found a rise in consumer confidence had failed to boost festive spending.
The payments firm, which processes nearly half of all UK debit and credit transactions, said that consumer spending growth had declined if inflation was taken into account.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "Twice the UK faced the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, as well as political instability that concluded in a December general election - further weakening demand for the festive period. Retailers also faced challenges as consumers became both more cautious and more conscientious as they went about their Christmas shopping," she added.
The BRC's figures do not include the entire retail market. For instance, its survey excludes some fast-growing online retailers, including Amazon, which some experts reckon now account for some 20% of online sales.
However, its chief executive told the BBC Today programme she felt the figures did give "an accurate picture".
Ms Dickinson said: "These figures are not an estimate, they are full sales data from retailers that represent the majority of retail sales."
She added: "While it is not 100% of retailers in the country, some businesses that aren't included will also be compensated by those that have gone bust."
Like-for-like retail sales climbed in December, but that was due to a relatively late Black Friday, the BRC said. Once November, was included to include this distortion, like-for-like sales dropped 1.2% compared with the previous year, it said.
Despite the drop in total sales last year, the volume of sales was still higher than in 2017.
Which shops struggled last year?
It's been a tough year for High Street retailers with several shops either going into administration or announcing job losses in 2019. Mothercare UK, Bonmarche and luxury jeweller Links of London all went into administration last year. Meanwhile, Philip Green's Arcadia retail empire, HMV and Debenhams both announced significant store closures.
Source BBC News