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Small uptick in December retail sales but 2020 disappoints

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Retail sales volumes increased 0.3% in December as shoppers were given a small window ahead of Christmas lockdown restrictions, official figures reveal.

Retailers said enforced closures later in the month affected turnover, though not to the same extent as witnessed in November.

But, Christmas purchases through click and collect and online sales helped to lessen the impact, they reported to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Clothing stores reported strong monthly growth of 21.5%, rebounding from a large fall (-19.6%) recorded in November when they were closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

Despite the monthly recovery, sales in the sector are still 14.2% lower than December 2019 and continue to remain at a lower level than before the pandemic struck.

Food stores reported a monthly fall of 3.4% in December after benefitting from November’s curbs to the hospitality and non-essential sector.

However, year-on-year, food stores saw strong annual growth of 4.4%, while the year-on-year growth rate in the volume of retail sales increased by 2.9% when compared with December 2019.

Non-store retailers reported the largest year-on-year growth at 43.5%. Total online retailing values increased by 46.1% in 2020 when compared with 2019, the highest annual growth reported since 2008.

‘Most digital Christmas ever’

Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said: “Despite the challenges that 2020 brought, retail overall has shown some resilience in the final month of the year. Strong performance in grocery and record-breaking online sales for non-food meant that Christmas 2020 was the most digital ever.

“Having entered 2021 under renewed lockdown restrictions, retailers will be looking to consumer behaviours during the pandemic to predict which new trends are likely to emerge, and which will carry over.”

Geddes added: “For now, pent-up demand is likely to see shoppers out in force once restrictions lift, as we saw in summer at the end of the first lockdown. Crucially, the reopening of the high street will this time coincide with the ongoing vaccine rollout, which should boost consumer confidence and see them return to stores once more.”

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