Sales for the Christmas season have been 'below par' as families try to make their budgets stretch as far as possible, the CBI said.
Its distributive trades survey revealed the balance of retailers reporting that sales were up year-on-year fell back to a worse-than-expected 19% this month, from a five-month high of 33% in November.
Recreational goods such as toys, books, games and sportswear were the biggest contributor to the decline and there was also a big decline in sales of 'big ticket' items for the home such as fridges and washing machines. CBI's panel chairman Judith McKenna said it was notable that sales volumes were below par for the festive season and that ongoing economic fragility was maintaining the squeeze on household incomes.
An Asda spokesman added: "So while families are making their budgets stretch as far as possible for the Christmas season, the Christmas spending spirit can only go so far."
Supermarkets have benefited from the frugal spending patterns with the CBI reporting an eighth consecutive month of rising year-on-year grocery sales, with clothes sales also picking up 39%.
Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said: "A serious battle of wills may well be taking place between consumers and retailers.
"Many consumers may be holding off from doing their Christmas shopping until virtually the last moment in the hope that worried retailers will offer more and more discounts and promotions."