Winter freeze knocks retail sales growth

Julian Harris
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HIGH street spending took a severe hit from last month’s snow, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) confirmed today.

Like-for-like sales in December dropped by 0.3 per cent on the previous year, the group reported, although for the whole of 2010 these sales increased by 0.8 per cent.

“The unusually early winter weather made a difficult Christmas worse,” said the BRC’s head Stephen Robertson. “Catch up shopping gave a big boost in the week just before Christmas and the post Christmas clearances were strong,” he said, “but neither was enough to replace every sale lost earlier in the month.”

In December 2009 retail sales shot up by 4.2 per cent on the previous year.

Total sales, which include new stores and expansion in shop floor space, were up 1.5 per cent last month – yet this was the weakest monthly rise since April.

The announcement was mirrored by figures from Visa, which showed a slowdown in sales growth for the final quarter of the year.

“Sales growth was modest during the crucial pre-Christmas period, a situation exacerbated by poor weather conditions,” Visa reported.

Consumer spending growth slowed to 2.6 per cent in the final quarter of 2010, Visa found, down from 6.9 per cent in the three months to September.

However, consumer spending in 2010 still surpassed pre-recession levels, they said.

“This is the sixth successive quarter where there has been an increase in consumer spending. The figures suggest that we have avoided a double dip recession,” added Dr Steve Perry of Visa Europe.

Online sales were originally boosted by December’s bad weather, the BRC found, yet suffered later in the month as consumers feared they would not receive goods in time for Christmas.

December’s non-store sales increased by 18 per cent on the previous year, yet this was virtually the same as November’s increase, simply reflecting a long term rise in internet purchases.

Christmas in 2009 had seen a 26.5 per cent jump in online sales compared to the previous year.