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Retail sales slow on Omicron fears, survey finds
21 December 2021

Retailers have felt the chill from Omicron in December as shoppers stayed at home to keep themselves safer from the virus, according to a new survey.

Only a third of retailers who were asked after 8 December, when the Government announced it would adopt a new “Plan B” strategy, said that sales were higher than the same period last year.

The latest questionnaire, which is sent to companies each month by the Confederation of British Industry, found early signs to back up stories of the impact of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

“Our December survey confirms what we’ve been hearing anecdotally about Omicron’s chilling impact on activity on the High Street, with retail sales growth slowing and expectations for the coming month sharply downgraded,” said CBI lead economist Ben Jones.

“On the supply side, retailers have been making progress in building up stocks, which were seen as more than adequate to deal with expected demand over Christmas.

“The concern now is the potential for rapidly rising sickness and staff absences to cause renewed disruption to supply chains in the New Year.

“It’s crucial that the Government takes steps to help society live confidently with the virus, including meaningful dialogue between business, Government and unions to assess the impact of restrictions and the need for future support.”

Retail sales grew by 8% in the year to December, according to the survey. It is a considerable slowdown from last month when the same figure showed a 39% increase compared to a year ago.

In January sales are expected to grow by 5%.

Many companies are now waiting to see if the Government will introduce further pandemic restrictions either before the end of this month, or in the new year.

But even before restrictions are tightened, the rise of Omicron has led to a spike in cancellations among hospitality businesses and sparked calls for more support, especially for pubs and restaurants.

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