By Rebecca Burn-Callander Friday, 18 January 2013

Un-happy Christmas as UK retail sales slump

Despite the likes of ASOS, Next, John Lewis and Sainsbury's reporting strong festive revenues, UK retail sales have fallen 0.1% in December.

It seems that Britain’s Christmas shoppers were more Scrooge-like than originally anticipated. The Office for National Statistics has now revealed that December’s UK retail sales, which were forecast to be juicier than a well-basted turkey, actually fell at a seasonally-adjusted 0.1% from the month before.

Compared with a year earlier, the quantity of goods sold across 2012 rose 0.3%, the slowest annual rate of growth since December 1998. That truly ghastly Christmas of 2010 doesn’t count, as sales were severely hampered by the snow. Analysts were hoping for a 0.2% increase every month last year, so the findings have left the UK’s economists feeling rather blue.

The ONS places the blame for the monthly fall in sales squarely on non-food retail – household goods and such – which fell 3%. But clothing and food didn’t perform nearly as well as expected, which is curious, given the amount that everyone supposedly eats at Christmas. And the fact that people generally need to buy warm clothes as the temperatures fall.

It’s a very different story online, however, where retailers had a bumper festive season, accounting for 10.6% of all spending across the period. The average weekly spend online reached £830.3m across December, an increase of 15.5% compared with December 2011.

And we are, at least, doing marginally better than last year. The British Retail Consortium reckons that the total value of goods sold in December was up 1.5% on 2011. The ONS concurs, estimating that the weekly spend across all retailing in December hit £8.5bn, up from £8.4bn last year.

So, while the slight monthly fall in retail sales is a bit of a pain, it’s possible that it was self-inflicted. All that early discounting on the high street, and in the supermarkets, may have been a little premature. It’s only unfortunate that for a number or retailers - Jessops, HMV and Comet - this will be their last Christmas…


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