January’s heavy snow saw retailers suffer a shock fall in sales last month after many small grocers were forced to shut up shop amid the freezing weather.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes fell 0.6 per cent between December and January, driven by the biggest month-on-month fall in food volumes since May 2011.
Small shops, such as convenience stores and high street butchers and bakers, were hit the hardest with sales falling 14.9 per cent year-on-year, but online shopping services are thought to have helped the large supermarket chains record a rise of 0.3 per cent.
The figures dashed City expectations for a 0.5 per cent rise in volumes after the closely-watched British Retail Consortium’s figures for the first two weeks of January showed like-for-like sales up 3 per cent.
And there was further disappointment over the crucial December trading period after the ONS revealed a downward-revised fall of 0.3 per cent from 0.1 per cent previously.
The gloomy sales report will reignite fears that the UK economy is on course for a triple-dip recession after the first estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) in the final three months of last year showed the economy contracted by a worse-than-expected 0.3 per cent.
Further signs of the struggle on the high street came this week after fashion chain Republic collapsed into administration, joining this year’s other high profile retail casualties HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster.