UK retail sales experienced a slowdown in growth during December 2023, with a modest increase of 1.7% compared to the significant 6.9% growth seen in the same month of 2022. 

The data, which covers the five weeks from 26 November to 30 December 2023, was released by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and revealed that the performance fell below the period’s three-month average growth of 2.3%.  

In 2023, total retail sales in the UK rose by 3.6% from 2022, with food sales growing by 8.1% and non-food sales slightly declining by 0.1%. 

In the three months leading up to December, food sales saw a 6.8% increase on a total basis and continued to grow year-on-year during the month.

But non-food sales declined by 1.5% over the same three-month period, a sharper drop than the 12-month average.  

In-store non-food sales in December also decreased by 1.3% on a total basis compared to the same period in 2022, underperforming against the 12-month average growth of 1.6%.  

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Online non-food sales followed a similar downward trend, decreasing by 0.8% in December. This was less severe than the 3.0% decline in December 2022.  

The online penetration rate for non-food items saw a slight increase, reaching 36.8% in December from 36.2% in the same month of the previous year.  

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE stated: “The festive period failed to make amends for a challenging year of sluggish retail sales growth, as weak consumer confidence continued to hold back spending.  

“The post-Christmas sales were unsuccessful in enticing spend in areas such as furniture and homeware, with households remaining cautious about making larger purchases.  

“Sales saw a slight uptick in the week leading up to Christmas as consumers scrambled to purchase last-minute gifts, particularly online, due to the wet weather. In gifting, beauty products were the standout performer and toys and gaming also sold well. 

“2024 looks to be another challenging year for retailers and their customers, and spending will continue to be constrained by high living costs.  

“This will be compounded by other emerging issues, such as the disruption to shipments from the Far East via the Red Sea.”