The Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry said its retail business survey index (RBSI) came to 99 for the October-December period, down 7 points from three months earlier.
It marks the first on-quarter drop in three quarters. The RBSI stood at 106 in the third quarter and 103 in the first quarter.
The figure is based on a survey of some 1,000 retail businesses across the nation. A reading below 100 means that pessimists outnumber optimists.
Retailers' downbeat sentiment comes as Asia's fourth-largest economy has been gripped by a resurgence of COVID-19 infections despite its vaccination program.
According to the findings, the index for internet-based retailers was the highest at 110 thanks to increasing contact-free consumption because of tight social distancing measures.
Figures for other types of retailers stayed below the benchmark. The reading was 98 for department stores, 85 for big discounters, 88 for convenience stores and 98 for supermarkets.
Weak sentiment for offline stores was attributed to a fall in the number of customers due to social distancing measures and stiffer competition with online rivals in the market for fresh foods and daily goods. (Yonhap)