The survey of 106 firms, of which 49 were retailers, showed that in the year to October, retail sales fell at the quickest rate since March 2009 - the height of the financial crisis. That gives a rounded balance of -36 percent, the worst reading since March 2009.
Despite the disappointing figures, respondents to the survey were more hopeful for the month ahead with 14 per cent expecting sales volumes to increase and 12 per cent expecting them to decrease.
While the CBI survey is extremely volatile from month to month, the three-month average balance for reported retail sales sank to - 1 from +18 in September - a 13-month low.
Exactly half of retailers said volumes were down in October compared to a year ago.
"It's clear retailers are beginning to really feel the pinch from higher inflation. While retail sales can be volatile from month-to-month, the steep drop in sales in October echoes other recent data pointing to a marked softening in consumer demand".
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JPMorgan economist Allan Monks said he tended to take Britain's array of monthly retail surveys with a pinch of salt, but added that Thursday's CBI survey raised concerns about momentum in the consumer economy.
"Maintaining productivity gains will be crucial to sustaining wage growth as employers contend with further changes to statutory employment costs".
Growth in online sales slowed in the year to October, to a pace just below the long-run average, but is expected to pick up slightly in the year to November.
"The survey often is a poor guide because it includes only 49 retailers reporting whether sales are higher or lower than a year ago exclusively in the first two weeks of the month".
"That said, compelling reasons exist to expect consumers to tighten their purse strings over the final months of 2017".
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