Figures out today from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that a last-minute surge in online sales of non-food items prevented retail figures falling in December.
This meant that sales in December were up 1.5 per cent compared with a year earlier, while like-for-like sales, which exclude new store openings, rose by 0.3 per cent. However, online sales still only account for just over 10 per cent of overall sales.
Having said that, the BRC expects online sales to rise and the figures show its highest rate of growth this year. It would appear that shoppers are increasingly taking advantage of the convenience that online shopping offers at every stage of the customer journey, from comparing prices to reserving and collecting in-store.
The BRC cautioned however, that the figures are not a cause for celebration, as total growth for December did not include inflation and was only on a par with December 2010, when severe weather prevented shoppers going out for much of the month.
As the BRC noted, retailers knew that they were facing a challenging Christmas, although the final few days leading up to the holiday saw a last-minute sales boost, as many made the most of a full shopping weekend which the calendar didn’t offer in the previous year.
Disappointingly, footfall was low but when people did make shopping trips they bought a lot in one go, which probably accounts for the performance of department stores, which were the one bright spot in the retail figures.
Both Debenhams and House of Fraser showed record sales for Christmas and John Lewis appeared to benefit from the closure of Comet in its electrical sales, which were better than average for the time of year.
However, the trade is concerned that the figures merely show a reallocation of consumers’ money, not an increase in spending. Government figures for retail spending in December will be out later this month.
As an accountant, Sarah Jenkins, specialises in management accounting, business development and financial reporting.