Weather closes in as retailers report worst month for sales

The high street suffered its worst December on record last month as retailers battled with Arctic weather conditions and shoppers shunned higher prices.

Retail sales volumes declined 0.8 per cent month-on-month – the lowest reading since records began in 1988, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. Food stores saw a 3.4 per cent drop in year-on-year sales volumes – another record plunge – as prices soared 5 per cent, the ONS added. Soaring food prices, reflected within the rising rate of Consumer Price Index inflation which stands at 3.7 per cent, were "not helping" retailers, it added.

But companies noted a change in shoppers' behaviour during the severe weather, as consumers turned to local stores to buy small volumes, rather than heading out-of-town behemoths for weekly or monthly shops.

The ONS also confirmed that internet sales continued to strengthen – now constituting a record 10.6 per cent of all retail sales – as 770m was spent online in December.

But even internet food sales were hit by the weather, the ONS added, as retailers noted a tailing-off of sales after December 13, when reports of delayed and failed deliveries started to surface.

Household goods stores also performed badly, matching the 0.9 per cent month-on-month decline seen in food.

The ONS said there was no evidence to suggest consumers snapped up big-ticket items, such as televisions or fridges, ahead of January's VAT hike, as electrical appliances declined in December.

The ONS noted a rise in sales volumes at sport equipment stores, which were helped by the weather as outdoor wear sold particularly well.

The volume of retail sales was also flat year-on-year, the ONS said.