Retail sales were down 0.3% in February with a drop of 1.7% recorded in the year, latest CSO figures published today show.
With motor sales excluded, sales fell by 1% in the month compared with January, with an annual decrease of over 2%.
The main areas contributing to the monthly decease were in bars, where trade was down over 3%; books, newspapers and stationary also down over 3% and motor sales fell almost 3% in the month from January figures.
Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) said the sectors which are under extreme pressure include consumer electronics, mid-market fashion and flooring.
“Trading conditions remained subdued during February with the majority of retailers still experiencing like-for-like declines in sales compared to 2011," said REI Chief Executive David Fitzsimons.
“Retail Excellence Ireland are urging the Government to introduce measures that will help retailers reduce their cost base," he added.
"Top of this list is the reduction of local authority rates to levels that reflect the average 30% reduction in retail sales levels over the last four years.”
Retail Excellence Ireland is the largest retail industry group in Ireland with over 8,500 store members employing over 110,000 people.
Meanwhile Retail Ireland, the IBEC group that represents the retail sector, said the retail sales figures for February showed a continuation of the dismal start to 2012, and that sales have not fallen at this pace since the "darkest days" of 2009.
The organisations said that if this trend continues, the Government must look again at the decision to increase VAT.
"Consumers are still not spending," Retail Ireland Director Stephen Lynam said.
"Overall, retail sales are down by 30% compared with the boom era. Consumer sentiment is weak and the outlook remains uncertain.
"The high cost of rents, rates, tax and labour are causing retailers real difficulties and depressing consumer demand.
"Action is needed on all these fronts, including a review of VAT returns at the end of the month. If the Government's target is not met, the 2% increase should be reversed."
Meanwhile the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises association (ISME) demanded stronger government action to stamp out the black economy and the rogue traders involved.
ISME said the continuing decline in legitimate sales contrasted to the surge in black market activity across a range of products from cigarettes to diesel.