Big discounts in the Christmas shopping rush were harder to find this year as high street chains fought to protect their margins, a report said today.
Combined with the ongoing caution of consumers, business advisory firm BDO's December sales tracker points to "steady but unspectacular" trading.
The report, which studies like-for-like spending at non-grocery retailers with annual sales of between £5m and £500m, showed sales growth of 1.9% on a year earlier, despite a drop of 3.7% in the week to December 16.
BDO said tighter stock planning and better strategies for discounting meant firms were able to achieve an improvement in margins on a year earlier.
"Although experiencing relatively modest year-on-year sales rises, many retailers still count December as a success," they said.
Non-fashion was the strongest sector, with growth of 7.1% thanks to increased sales of Christmas 'gifting' items from well-established brands and stores. Fashion sales were flat year-on-year due to poor weather and strong figures for the same period a year earlier.
Much of the growth came from the internet, with BDO reporting a 30.9% year-on-year rise in non-store sales as shoppers became ever more comfortable with online purchasing - especially from big name brands - as well as making use of growing wi-fi and 4G coverage to pick up bargains while on the move.
BDO's national head of retail, Don Williams, said: "Last year we saw several stores having to slash prices to levels that really hit their profits after getting caught with too much stock.
"This year there has been a focus on protecting margins. By building up to Christmas early in a measured way there has been less knee-jerk discounting."