Retail Sales Disappoint

According to the Office for National Statistics, retail sales fell at a seasonally adjusted 0.1 per cent in December from the month before, while compared with the same month in 2011, the quantity of goods sold rose a worse than expected 0.3 per cent.

The poor growth was the worst since 1998, with the exception of 2010 when sales were hit by heavy snow. This means, the ONS has said, that although there was some growth, it has lost its momentum. Surprisingly, given the time of year, the sale of food was down, as was clothing, although online retailers did well.

In fact, in real terms, retail sales have stagnated since mid-2007, as December’s figure was only 2.4 per cent higher than the volume of sales in December 2007. However, the gradual price rise experienced by shoppers has come to an end.

The figures were surprising, as many retailers had reported a last minute rush before Christmas and then excellent sales on Boxing Day, but these could not make up for the poor sales for the first three weeks of the month.

However, one bright spot was online sales, which continued to increase their share of the retail business. Although online sales fell 0.1 per cent in December from November, it was a much slighter fall than usual for the time of year and the whole month figures for online sales were up to 10.6 per cent of total sales from 9.4 per cent in December 2011.

Meanwhile, Experian has produced figures showing that the number of visits to online retail site rose 86 per cent on Christmas Eve, 71 per cent on Christmas Day and 17 per on Boxing Day compared with the year before.

In addition, Experian say that total online sales were up 15.5 per cent, which was mainly caused by a 36 per cent surge in online shopping at department stores. The rise in online sales however had a knock-on effect on sales of petrol and diesel sold in December, which fell 6.6 per cent from the same time a year ago.