UK retail sales fell in December by 3.7% as the Omicron variant spread and shoppers made Christmas purchases earlier in November due to concerns over supply chain shortages, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes fell by 3.7% for the month, compared with a 1% rise in November.
Office for National Statistics deputy director for surveys and economic indicators Heather Bovill said: “After strong pre-Christmas trading in November, retail sales fell across the board in December, with feedback from retailers suggesting Omicron impacted on footfall.”
“As Plan B restrictions in England meant more people working from home, there was a notable fall for fuel sales,” he added.
“However, despite the fall in December, retail sales are still stronger than before the pandemic, with over a quarter of sales now made online,” Bovill stressed.
Non-food stores sales volumes fell by 7.1% in December 2021, with falls in each of its sub-sectors (department stores, clothing stores, other non-food stores and household stores) following strong sales in November; the Omicron variant, which increased rapidly during December, was reported by some retailers as impacting retail footfall.
Automotive fuel sales volumes fell by 4.7% in December 2021 as increased home working in December 2021 reduced travel; sales volumes were 6.6% below their February 2020 levels.
Food store sales volumes fell by 1% in December 2021; despite the fall in December, volumes were 2% above levels in February 2020.
The proportion of retail sales online rose slightly to 26.6% in December 2021 from 26.3% in November, substantially higher than the 19.7% in February 2020 before the coronavirus
Erin Brookes, who leads the European Retail and Consumer Practice at consultancy Alvarez & Marsal, commented this morning that: “Heavy discounting over the festive season has not been enough to get the tills ringing for retailers, with consumers concerned about the Omicron variant disrupting their Christmas plans.”
She added that “the government’s decision this week to relax all aspects of Plan B Covid restrictions will likely leave many retailers breathing a sigh of relief that the worst of the pandemic could be behind them. In particular, the easing of face mask rules will likely be a factor driving people to visit the shops in person again.”