Retail sales show sharpest annual fall on record

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By Ian McConnell

RETAIL sales volumes in Great Britain rose much less than expected in the key festive trading month of December and, over 2020, showed a 1.9 per cent drop which was the worst annual fall since records began in 1997.

The 0.3% rise in retail sales volumes last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, reported yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, was way adrift of the consensus forecast among economists of a 1.2% increase. A sharp rise in December had been anticipated because sales in November were depressed significantly by the English lockdown which started on November 5 and ran until early last month.

Non-essential shops across central Scotland were closed in late November and early December amid coronavirus-related restrictions. They then reopened, before a move to lockdown on the Scottish mainland after Christmas.

Retail sales in Great Britain had dropped 4.1% month-on-month in November, amid the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of Covid-19. Clothing sales volumes jumped 21.5% month-on-month in December, having seen a 19.6% drop in November.

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Overall retail sales volumes in December were up 2.9% on the same month of last year. The non-store category, which takes in online retail sales, recorded a 43.5% year-on-year rise in volumes in December. Food stores recorded a 4.4% year-on-year rise in sales volumes last month.

Comparing the fourth quarter with the prior three months, retail sales volumes were down 0.4%. The EY ITEM Club think-tank said this was consistent with its view the UK economy “likely stagnated over the quarter, just avoiding contraction”.

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It added: “After Q1, the EY ITEM Club expects the economy to benefit progressively through 2021 from the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines. Consumers look well-placed to play a key role in a pick-up in the UK economy from the second quarter given the recent high savings ratios, although much will depend on unemployment numbers.”

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