Latest figures from accountancy firm BDO show that December was not the season to be jolly for many British retailers.
In its latest sales tracker, BDO showed like-for-like sales among UK "mid-market" retailers last month were down 2.2%.
Fashion retailers fared worst with underlying sales down 4.6% during unseasonable weather and heavy discounting, according to the survey of 85 chains including French Connection, Gap, Hobbs, Paperchase and Conran stores.
The City is bracing itself for more bad news as the country’s biggest retailers prepare to report on their Christmas and new year trade.
M&S, which set off alarm bells by launching a ‘Mega Day’ promotion the weekend before Christmas, will be unveiling a dismal set of sales figures on Thursday, marking the retail giant’s third lacklustre Christmas in a row.
There are also murmurings that Tesco boss Philip Clarke will be announcing a fall of 2-2.5% in like-for-like sales for the six weeks to January 4.
But it’s not all bah-humbug out there. Fashion chain Next and department store rivals John Lewis and House of Fraser put in robust performances over the festive period. And it was another bumper Christmas for online sales.
The BDO survey showed December non-store sales leaping 31.1%, rising to growth of 55.7% in the week before Christmas. The online boom is supported by research by independent retail consultant Richard Hyman, who told the Financial Times that online purchases accounted for almost 20% of total retail sales: "It was a record Christmas for online, there is no doubt about that," he said. "Click and collect made it a much bigger Christmas than it has ever been before… It allowed consumers to shop right up the wire."
Small wonder so many middle-market retailers have lost their sparkle. They’re struggling with increased competition, changing shopping habits and the hefty weight of their bricks and mortar stores, while their light-as-feather online-only rivals are skipping off into the distance.