UK retail sales disappoint in December

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First of all the good news: A majority of UK retailers surveyed by business lobby group the CBI have reported an uplift in sales in December. But here comes the bad: The boost in the crucial run up to Christmas has undershot expectations.

Of the 118 companies surveyed (including 61 retailers) by the CBI as part of its regular Distributive Trades Survey, 43 per cent said that sales volumes had increased in December compared to the same month in 2014, while 24 per cent said they had declined month on month.

This produced a positive balance of +19 per cent which was better than the +7 per cent result from November’s survey but it fell short of expectations (a balance of +31 per cent was expected).

Retailers are expecting 2016 to remain tough, according to the CBI’s distributive trades chairman, Barry Williams, who is also chief customer officer at Asda, the supermarket chain.

He said:

It’s no surprise sales have recovered as we head into the final shopping days of the Christmas season.

It would be ideal if the industry could keep that momentum into the New Year but retailers know 2015 was tough, and they’re expecting 2016 to start in much the same vein.

Nevertheless, retailers are helping to make the pound in customers’ pockets go further, and low fuel prices should give an additional boost to consumer spending through the New Year.

Online sales have been particularly robust this month – helped by discounts offered in the wake of Black Friday – with internet sales volumes rising at their quickest pace since April, according to the CBI.

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