By Daniel Hunter
The British Retail Consortium have said that strong growth in online shopping stopped retail sales falling in December.
UK retail sales values were up 0.3% on a like-for-like basis from December 2011, when they were up 2.2% on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were up 1.5%, against a 4.1% rise in December 2011.
The discrepancy between the rate of growth for food and non-food has been narrowing in recent months to the detriment of food.
Online sales were up 17.8%, the fastest growth since December 2011, when they had risen by 18.5%.
"Against the relentlessly tough economic backdrop and low expectations, these results are not a cause for celebration, but not a disaster either," Helen Dickinson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said.
"Total growth for December hasn't beaten inflation and is only on a par with December 2010, when severe weather put sales volumes on ice for much of the month. Online was the stand-out performer, showing its highest rate of growth this year.
"Shoppers are increasingly taking advantage of the convenience that online shopping offers at every stage of the customer journey, from comparing prices to reserving and collecting in-store.
"Retailers knew they were facing a challenging Christmas. Some did better than others but they were generally well prepared for shoppers' limited spending power. After a sluggish start, the final few days leading up to Christmas saw a last-minute sales boost, as many made the most of a full shopping weekend which the calendar didn't offer in the previous year. Footfall was disappointingly low but it seems that when people did make shopping trips they bought a lot in one go.
"This rather underwhelming result brings a year of minimal sales growth to a close. Retailers will be hoping that a continuing boost from post-Christmas sales events strengthens January's figures but, unfortunately, there are few signs that their sense of ‘running fast to stand still' is likely to ease off any time soon."
David McCorquodale, Head of Retail, KPMG, said: "A flat end to a flat year is perhaps the best way to describe the Christmas trading for 2012. Despite mild, albeit wet, weather for the whole of the last quarter and an extra full weekend immediately prior to Christmas, the final quarter saw total sales rise only 1.5 per cent on the previous year and like-for-likes rise by only 0.2 per cent - both rises lower than inflation.
"Retailers this year were perhaps better prepared for a sluggish quarter and held less stock throughout. The stand-off between retailers and consumers looking for bargains and discounts continued throughout December and, while some retailers will report record Christmas sales, most will breathe a sigh of relief because it could have been much worse. Footfall rose in the last week of the year as consumers sought out some bargains but the year's trading is made in the six weeks leading up to Christmas, not the six days after it.
"January will be a tough month for retailers as consumers face up to their credit card bills after Christmas and it's likely 2013 will bring more of the same challenges. While consumer confidence remains low, shoppers will tighten their belts and rein in their spending, making life difficult for the average UK retailer. There will be no boom and it's likely more than a few will go bust."
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