High street celebrates Xmas boost

SNOWY weather and economic gloom could not deter British shoppers from hitting the high streets in their droves last month, giving retailers their best December performance in four years, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) will say today.

Total retail sales values increased by an astonishing six per cent last month on December 2008 and 5.4 per cent in the three months to December. Even on a like-for-like basis – which strips out the effect of new store openings – retail sales surged a healthy 4.2 per cent, more than compensating for the 3.3 per cent slump in sales witnessed the previous year.

Food sales growth also picked up on a like-for-like basis to 2.6 per cent, reflecting higher food prices. Cold weather boosted clothing and footwear while health and beauty benefited in the festive period.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “These are stronger figures than we dared hope for. After a surprisingly muted November, this is the best total sales growth for a December since 2005 and goes well beyond just making up for the sales fall the sector suffered a year ago.”

He added: “The figures were certainly helped by the comparison with last December’s terrible results but customers clearly felt more confident about spending than they have for some time.”

The BRC said that the snow had only a temporary effect and that shoppers made up for lost opportunities in the days just before Christmas and when the January sales started. Consumers were also keen to buy over the phone, internet or by mail-order to avoid the wintry conditions, with non-food non-store sales rising by 26.5 per cent in December.

Meanwhile, figures from research group TNS today confirm Waitrose as the fastest-growing supermarket over Christmas. The John Lewis subsidiary boosted festive sales 17.6 per cent on a year ago – its biggest gain since 2005. Wm Morrison saw sales rise 12.8 percent, with Sainsbury’s up 8.6 per cent and Tesco – which updates the market today – increasing sales eight per cent.