December retail sales defy gloom predictions

Figures released today show that retailers enjoyed “a better-than-hoped-for December”.

December retail sales defy gloom predictions

The British Retail Consortium said that UK retail sales values were 2.2% higher on a like-for-like basis than in December 2010, when snow-hit sales had fallen 0.3%.

On a total basis, December 2011 sales were up 4.1%, against a 1.5% increase in December 2010.

On both measures and excluding Easter distortions, sales performance was the best since January.

Although typically promotion-led, non-food sales – including homewares – improved, and non-food sales via the internet, mail order and phone picked up sharply from November’s low. Sales were 18.5% up on a year ago.

“A better-than-hoped-for December closed a relentlessly tough year for retailers,” said BRC director general Stephen Robertson, “but these figures hinged on a dazzling last pre-Christmas week and were boosted by some major one-off factors. We’re not witnessing any fundamental change in customers’ circumstances.

“The comparison is with severe snow disruption a year ago. Discounting was deeper and started earlier and the vital Saturday Christmas Eve added another big trading day to the final run-up. Post-Christmas offers brought large numbers of shoppers out but that was generally a short-lived hunt for bargains.

“With discounting driving sales at the expense of margins,” he added, “the key question for retailers is about earnings from those sales.”

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