Weak Christmas sales wrap up worst year for retail

Retail sales increased by only 0.3 per cent in December last year compared to the previous month.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that in 2020 total sales dropped by 1.9 per cent, the biggest year-on-year fall on record.

Although clothing stores reported strong monthly growth of 21.5 per cent after a significant decline in November, overall they saw a decline of 25 per cent in 2020.

ONS said that the clothing sector has been one of the worst affected by the restrictions to non-essential retail during the coronavirus pandemic.

But non-store retail - mainly online stores - saw a record annual increase of 32 per cent.

December retail sales grew 2.9 per cent compared to the same month in 2019, while non-store retailers reported the largest year-on-year growth at 43.5 per cent.

Food stores saw strong annual growth of 4.4 per cent in December.

"Last month's Christmas period will already be long forgotten for many of us, however the UK retail industry may well look upon it as a fond memory - with spending up versus the previous year, despite the impact of the pandemic on festivities,” said , Karen Johnson, head of retail & wholesale at Barclays Corporate Banking. "As lockdown measures prevented people celebrating at bars and restaurants, the public instead opted to enjoy the festive period at home, and so spent heavily on food and drink in December.

She added: "Looking ahead, the industry will be relying on the experience it gained from previous national and local lockdowns to ensure it makes the most of changing consumer behaviours – with retailers hoping that the flexibility of their channels continues to drive retail spending.”

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