'Weather and worries' hit sales
Retail sales put in their worst performance for eight months in December as snowy weather and money worries caused shoppers to cut back on buying Christmas presents, figures have revealed.
Retailers were already braced for a tough festive trading period as consumers reined in spending on non-essential items, but the Arctic weather made a difficult situation worse by keeping shoppers at home.
Like-for-like sales dropped 0.3% year-on-year, in their first decline since April, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Sales of food and drink continued to grow as consumers still found the money for a Christmas feast but sales of most non-food categories dropped, as overall sales rose just 1.5% in its lowest rate of growth since April.
Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said "a combination of weather and worries" led shoppers to cut back on presents.
He added: "With mounting concerns about the impact of spending cuts and the wider economy, sales growth has been weak since last summer. December was always likely to be similarly unspectacular but the snow and ice dealt an extra blow to business for many retailers."
Strong demand for snow boots and wellies helped increase sales of footwear, while clothing sales were flat despite selling more coats and cold weather gear. But sales of furniture, homewares and DIY goods were all down as consumers kept a tight grasp on their purse-strings.
Electrical items also declined despite strong sales of iPads and tablet computers and some retailers reporting that consumers brought forward purchases to beat the increase in VAT from 17.5% to 20% on January 4.
The next year is set to be "challenging" for retailers, but Mr Robertson said the outlook was not as bad as in the depths of the recession.
He added: "This is no return to the dire picture two years ago, but the message for the Chancellor is: concentrate on delivering growth and leave any new burdens out of your March Budget."