Retail sales were flat in December, as UK businesses experienced their worst Christmas in a decade, according to the British Retail Consortium.
The analysis comes as a number of major retailers announced Christmas trading updates on Thursday. Struggling department store chain Debenhams has reported a fall in sales during the crucial Christmas trading period. In a “volatile” environment with customers seeking discounts, Debenhams reported a 5.7% fall in like-for-like sales in the 18 weeks to 5 January. Marks & Spencer also saw its sales drop over the Christmas holiday period; like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of new stores, were down 2.2% in the 13 weeks to 29th December. Food sales fell 2.1% and its clothing and home sales division slid 2.4%.
But Tesco appeared to buck the gloomy trend, saying trading over the Christmas period had been “strong”. The company, which is the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, says its like-for-like sales over Christmas in the core UK area were up 2.2% in the six weeks to 5th January. Tesco said it had outperformed the market “in all key categories” – food, clothing, and general merchandise. The figures were released along with its third-quarter trading update, which showed sales up 1.9% for the period.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Squeezed consumers chose not to splash out this Christmas, with retail sales growth stalling for the first time in 28 months. The worst December sales performance in 10 years means a challenging start to 2019 for retailers, with business rates set to rise once again this year, and the threat of a no-deal Brexit looming ever larger.”
The BRC said that on a like-for-like basis, UK retail sales decreased by 0.7% from December 2017.