Retail sales volumes in the UK experienced a sharp decline of 3.2% in December 2023, marking the largest monthly fall since January 2021, when Covid-19 restrictions were in place.  

The decrease follows a revised increase of 1.4% in November.  

Sales volumes of non-food stores were particularly hard hit, dropping by 3.9% after a 2.7% rise in November. This rise was attributed to Black Friday sales and wider discounting.  

Within non-food sectors, department stores suffered a 7.1% decrease in sales volumes, with retailers citing quiet post-Christmas trading and reduced household goods sales. 

Other retail sectors, including sports equipment, games, toys, watches and jewellery stores, reported a 4.5% fall in sales volumes.  

The decline was largely due to cost-of-living pressures and decreased footfall.  

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Household goods and clothing stores saw declines of 3.0% and 1.5%, respectively over the month. 

Food stores did not escape the downturn, with sales volumes falling by 3.1% in December, a reversal after a 1.1% increase in November.  

Sales for non-store retailing, chiefly by online retailers, also saw a 2.1% decrease in sales volumes, with economic factors such as inflation blamed for the decline. 

Automotive fuel sales volumes decreased by 1.9% in December 2023, following a modest rise of 0.8% in November.  

On an annual basis, retail sales volumes in 2023 were down by 2.8%, reaching their lowest level since 2018. 

The quarterly figures also indicate a downturn, with a 0.9% decrease in the three months to December 2023 compared to the previous quarter. 

In response to the figures, British Retail Consortium insight director Kris Hamer said: “A drop in retail sales volumes in December capped a difficult year for retailers, with sales volumes across 2023 below those seen in 2019.  

“Black Friday sales ate into Christmas spending, while the high cost of living meant some households had to cut back on festive gifting. Electricals and furniture performed weaker than hoped, and even food saw smaller growth as many households traded down to cheaper brands.  

“However, with inflation on a downward trend and wages slowly rising, retailers hope that consumer confidence and sales volumes will bounce back in 2024.”