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Retail sales volumes decline as Christmas shoppers shift spend
19 January 2024

British retailers saw the volume of goods sold last month drop by its fastest rate in three years as under-pressure shoppers shifted part of their Christmas shop to earlier in the year to spread the cost and take advantage of discounts.

Sales volumes dipped 3.2% in December, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested, down from a rise of 1.4% a month before.

The ONS said that there was some evidence that customers had done more Christmas shopping than usual in November, taking advantage of Black Friday sales in some cases.

This meant that December saw the biggest drop in sales for the retail sector since January 2021, when the country was still under COVID-19 restrictions.

It was also much worse than the 0.5% drop that economists had forecast on average, according to estimates supplied by Pantheon Macroeconomics.

The value of the items customers bought also dropped by 3.6%.

"Following a strong November, retail sales plummeted in December with all types of outlets being hit," said the ONS’s Heather Bovill.

"This was the largest overall monthly fall since January 2021, when the reintroduction of pandemic restrictions knocked sales heavily.

"Food stores performed very poorly, with their steepest fall since May 2021 as early Christmas shopping led to slow December sales."

Food shops saw their sales volumes down by 3.1%, while sales in non-food shops were 3.9% lower.

Worst hit were the department stores, whose sales dropped 7.1% in a very quiet December period.

Bovill added: "Department stores reported sluggish sales too as consumers spent less on Christmas gifts, but had also purchased earlier during Black Friday promotions, to help spread the cost.

"The longer-term picture remains subdued, with quarterly sales dipping, while annual sales volumes fell for the second consecutive year, to their lowest level in five years."

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