Sharp fall in December retail sales

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UK retail sales fell by an estimated 3.2% in December 2023, from a rise of 1.4% in November.

It’s the biggest monthly fall since January 2021, when sales were affected by lockdown restrictions.

What’s more, the actual volume of goods that consumers bought in December was the lowest since May 2020, during the first Covid lockdown.

The data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that many people did their festive shopping earlier, taking advantage of Black Friday discounts at the end of November.

The volume of non-food products purchased in December fell by 3.9%, versus a 2.7% increase in November. Meanwhile, food store sales volumes were down 3.1%, from an increase of 1.1% a month earlier.

“Food stores performed very poorly, with their steepest fall since May 2021 as early Christmas shopping led to slow December sales,” said Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys and economic indicators at the ONS.

“Department stores, clothing shops and household goods retailers 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.”

Bovill added that the longer-term picture for retail sales remains “subdued”, with quarterly sales down and annual sales falling for the second consecutive year, to the lowest level in five years.

The December figures increase the risk that the UK economy fell into recession at the end of 2023.