According to statistics released by the British Retail Consortium UK retail sales over Christmas were up 0.3 per cent from December 2011, with an overall 2.2 per cent rise on the previous year.
Online sales were up 17.8 per cent, the fastest growth since December 2011, when they had risen by 18.5 per cent, with electrical goods such as e-readers, smartphones and tablet computers being the most popular goods bought online.
Health and beauty goods, footwear and clothing also enjoyed a surge in online sales during December.
However, without the rise in website sales for goods other than food over Christmas the British Retail Consortium warns that overall spending would have fallen, leading British Retail Consortium director general, Helen Dickinson, to comment: “These results are not a cause for celebration, but not a disaster either”.
Dickinson added: “Retailers knew they were facing a challenging Christmas. Some did better than others but they were generally well prepared for shoppers' limited spending power. Footfall was disappointingly low…unfortunately, there are few signs that their sense of ‘running fast to stand still' is likely to ease off any time soon.”
Online was the stand-out performer of the Christmas season as shoppers increasingly turned to e-commerce to take advantage of services such as price comparison and click-and-collect.
Simon Jackson, chief commercial officer at brand protection specialist NetNames said the results showed how consumer’s “purchasing behaviour has fundamentally changed” with the emergence of new behaviours such as “showrooming” where customers browse in-store but make purchases online.
Jackson added: “As digital savvy customers increasingly rely on web-based channels to scout out the best discounts and complete the purchasing lifecycle, many retailers are looking to capitalise on the growing number of internet shoppers by offering exclusive access to discounts and offers online. An example of this being many brands launched web sales as early as Christmas Eve, helping to drive a three-day surge in online spending.”
MD of CPA network Rakuten Linkshare Mark Haviland echoed Jackson’s sentiments stating the figures “show that the online channel is becoming absolutely vital for retailers”.
Haviland furthered: “As shopping on the internet becomes increasingly popular, retailers need to invest in technology which enables them to target potential online customers with the right content, on the right device, at the right time.”
Head of retail at KPMG, David McCorquodale, described the results as “a flat end to a flat year,” continuing: “The stand-off between retailers and consumers looking for bargains and discounts continued throughout December and, while some retailers will report record Christmas sales, most will breathe a sigh of relief because it could have been much worse.
“While consumer confidence remains low, shoppers will tighten their belts and rein in their spending, making life difficult for the average UK retailer. There will be no boom and it's likely more than a few will go bust.”